SFU Food Pantry Burnaby Campus

Dear APSA: Thank you for your Direct Impact on Food Insecurity at SFU.

By Chris Yakimov & Tara Flynn

On behalf of SFU's Office of Community Engagement, we would like to thank you, APSA, for your ongoing support of the SFU Food Pantry. Your efforts and attention have had more impact than you might realize, and we want to tell you about it.

On Wednesday, February 28th, two APSA board members helped us gather, sort, and prepare to give out food to SFU students and staff who had registered to use the Pantry that day. We hope it was fun! We know it makes a huge difference.

Keeping the Pantry open every week is so important. We've learned from the students and staff who use the Pantry that it not only acts as a reliable support for week-to-week living, but it's also a safety net for the one or two times per term (or per year) when life hits people in the face and getting food (for themselves or others) just isn't possible…

…Like when someone was using the Pantry to support a family member who had just undergone heart surgery.

…Or when a student got sick for a long period of time and couldn't work but also couldn't apply for UI.

… Or for those who feel similarly to one person who shared, "this helps me to reduce my stress".

There is also a large group of people who use the Pantry regularly. Many reasons for this are rooted in larger issues, like the cost of living and inflation. But some are about connection. A group of 10 international students emailed us to share the following request:

"Finding the Pantry community was a light of hope for those of us who deal with unexpected and crazy inflation… we would like to ask you to continue and increase this community for students like us."

SFU Food Pantry -- Food Arrives on Campus

And in our Fall 2022 survey, we heard:

"It is important to have the Pantry on campus because it is very helpful in making me feel safe and confident so I can concentrate on academic engagement."

"I simply wouldn't have the opportunity to eat every day. Food is essential but it's so shameful to not have the same accessibility to it as others. It limits your ability to socialize, enjoy activities, and even focus in class. As a student it's so easy to let things slide (mental health, physical health, etc.) with all the stressors of the semester and typically school as well. Having the opportunity to feel secure in food helps build a foundation for all of the other things in life."

Even our volunteers are finding benefits they weren't expecting. As one volunteer put it:

"I have come to appreciate that this community is filled with love and compassion, where mutual respect and support are valued. Our shared passion for assisting students and addressing food insecurity has truly inspired me… I have personally benefitted from my volunteer experience by gaining confidence in my English language skills. Through regular interaction and communication at the Food Pantry, I have overcome my fear of speaking English."

By helping us keep the Pantry open as often as possible, APSA has had a nuanced and critical impact on the well-being of students and staff at SFU.

And it's an outsized impact, too. The Pantry's regularity has allowed it to turn $10,000 of direct funding into over $75,000 worth of distributed food thanks to partnerships with United Way BC and the Greater Vancouver Food Bank. To paraphrase one faculty member: "I support the Pantry because it is a managed food supply, and the availability of bulk items means that the food I donate goes further." One faculty member was so committed to helping students that they regularly travelled from another campus just to pick up food for students who couldn't get to Burnaby.

Who knew a weekly schedule would be doing so much?

It's not all good, though. Currently, the Pantry operates primarily through the efforts of one Office of Community Engagement employee, Tara Flynn. Tara builds the partnerships, purchases food, collects and delivers it, stocks it, hires and trains volunteers, helps run the Pantry when it's open, and secures funding for it.

Tara Flynn

So, when Tara broke three ribs during the winter break, she wasn't the only person who felt the impact. The SFU Food Pantry was forced to close through most of January. Thanks to support and encouragement from several APSA members and the APSA board, we've been able to limp back into operation for now. But for the Pantry to survive, it needs to scale.

And it's worth it if it does. Because not only does it impact staff and students, thanks to the deep and courageous work of our community partners (and some of our own faculty and staff)—Dr. Tammara Soma of The Food Systems Lab, SFU Sustainability, Embark Sustainability, SFU Ancillary Services, the Civic Innovation Lab, SFSS, the Greater Vancouver Food Bank, United Way British Columbia, ReFeed, Food Mesh, and Quest Food Exchange — the SFU Food Pantry is helping to intervene in the larger complex system of equitable and sustainable food redistribution.

"…six billion dollars of food a year is wasted [in BC], and we have hungry kids in schools." — David Long, CEO, GVFB, in Rethinking Food

SFU Food Pantry Burnaby Campus

Thanks to our partnership with Food Mesh, our companion program, the SFU Community Free Fridge, was able to divert 7,936 pounds of CO2 emissions in a seven-month period while providing numerous hungry students with food. It has been in operation for three years, and the Burnaby campus now has two of these fridges.

And there's more. We've learned that many folks who use the Pantry are exposed to foods and recipes they would have never tried. This may seem trivial, but learning how to work with the food you've got not only expands each person's ability to manage food and ingredients, but we believe it also contributes to the systemic problem of waste. Is okra the only veggie available at the Pantry this week? Guess what? We're cooking with okra! We've been surprised by the joy this has brought to the folks who have shared this with us.

And yet it also brings up the point of food selection. One issue the Pantry is shining a light on is the importance of culturally relevant foods. So, while we can learn to cook things we're not used to, there are cases where we really need certain foods for reasons that go beyond nutrition. The Pantry is helping us understand that better. And because we are lucky enough to have some incredible faculty at SFU who are studying the complexity of food insecurity and related issues, the Pantry's potential to serve as a site of more formal experiential and community-engaged learning is very exciting.

So, from all of us at SFU's Office of Community Engagement: thank you, APSA!

We're going to keep this program alive as long we can. We're grateful for the growing interest in what it's doing and how it could be doing more. If you'd like to support the Pantry directly, you can now make a tax-deductible donation online through donate.sfu.ca. And if you'd like to stay up to date on the Office of Community Engagement's work and programs, you can subscribe to our newsletter.