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Tackling student hunger: Inside UVic's student food bank effort

As demand from students increases, so does donor support.

Crystal Ni sits at the desk in the food bank talking to a woman with her back to the camera

Before Crystal Ni has a chance to unlock the doors of the UVSS Food Bank, someone is already knocking. Every five minutes, three to four patrons file in for their registered time slot. Any UVic student—no questions asked—can come weekly to collect staple grocery items. “It’s by students, for students,” says Crystal, one of three student coordinators employed at the food bank.

Most students head straight for the dairy and eggs, two items almost all patrons depend on the food bank for. Within 10 minutes of opening, three people ask about bread, fresh fruit and veggies, which are not in stock this week. Crystal empathetically lets them know “this is what we have available today, please check back next week,” which she admits is a difficult thing to have to share.

Wood shelves with cans of soup and beans on them. A sign reads can limits: 1 tuna, 1 pineapple, 1 mushroom, 1corn, 1 peach slices, 1 fruit cocktail
Each week, individual students can take home 3 canned goods, 1L of juice, 1 bread, 1L of milk (dairy or nondairy), 4 eggs, 4 pieces of produce, and 2 dry good items – when available.
Increasing demand and donor support

During the three years Crystal has been working at the food bank she’s seen a tremendous increase in demand. In the fall of 2023, they are serving 500-600 students per week. The food bank is funded by UVSS student fees and supplemented by cash and in-kind donations. Each fall, the campus community, alumni and other donors show their support through the Stocktober and Giving Tuesday fundraisers. In the past three years, more than 400 donors have given over $100,000 to the UVSS Food Bank. With an individual hamper costing approximately $27, UVic donors have helped fund upwards of 3,800.   

Even with this support, Crystal and her team are having to purchase less food due to the increasing food prices.

 “I feel like we don't fully understand how much people need the food bank and we need the funding. Every time I place an order, I'm always worried about placing too much. Like the money is not there. So, we always have to cut and then when people come in, there's not enough food. There's always not enough food,” Crystal says. “Funding's really important. We need it the most right now.”

How it’s helping

Above all, the students who use this service are extremely grateful. The ability to rely on free nutritious staples is saving some patrons 30-50% of their monthly grocery bills. For Caro Martinez, a biomedical engineering student, the food bank allows her to focus more on her studies and lessens her mental load about financial strain. An international student, Caro’s family helps with tuition fees, but she is responsible for all her living expenses. In her hometown, Caro used to donate food to local charities. “I never thought I would be in a position to need it,” she says.

Caro Martinez stands smiling at the camera in front of food bank shelves
"I always cook with something from the food bank. Just yesterday I made pasta, and added the can of tomatoes that they gave me. Sometimes if they have carrots, I'll take the carrots and put carrots,” says Caro Martinez.
 “I know I always will have somewhere to come for support and to find something to eat. And I know I'll never go hungry thanks to the UVSS Food Bank.” – Caro Martinez

Donate to the UVSS Food Bank, online or through payroll deductions.

 On-campus food supports for students:

Learn more about giving to UVic.