Langara College ends campus food bank
Gift cards now the primary support available to students struggling with food insecurity
By SARAH AMY LEUNG
Langara College says it ended a program that provided free groceries to students because giving them gift cards offers more flexibility.
Previously, Langara students could fill out an online form and anonymously pick up a weekly or monthly bag of non-perishable food at the Community Cupboard on campus, which opened in 2017. As of this term, students needing food assistance must schedule an appointment with a financial aid advisor to “investigate possible resources available,” according to Langara’s website.
Jordan Berger, associate registrar of enrolment services, said that students picked up food, toiletries and other items at the Community Cupboard 3,400 times in 2022.
Gift cards meant to provide more choice
Berger said each bag was worth approximately $25, but some students left groceries behind.
“They weren’t getting the whole bag because it was too heavy or wasn’t within their dietary needs,” Berger said. “We moved to the gift cards because that’s what we were hearing from students.”
The replacement program this fall offers students a $200 Superstore gift card per semester. While there are no set eligibility requirements, Berger said what students share with the financial aid advisors helps to ensure that the assistance goes to those “who actually need it.”
Berger said they switched to an appointment-based program to be able to have more thorough conversations with students about addressing their specific needs.
“We’re only kind of six weeks into this, and we have not had as many inquiries for these [gift cards] as we were anticipating,” Berger said.
Berger said they have been notifying Langarans of the change when students contact financial aid and through the Langara Post, an internal newsletter for college employees.
First-year photography student San Chu, who was unaware of food assistance offered by the college, said while the new initiative still sounds beneficial, it needs greater visibility.
Chu said more proactive communication from the college would help more students know that help is available.
“Maybe putting it on the [Langara website’s] front page or somewhere where you can see it more easily,” Chu said. “Putting up posters around the school or maybe sending out an email.”
Langara College has not issued any news releases about the new program and no specific details are provided on the financial aid webpage.
Capilano University taking multiple approaches
Daniel Levangie, associate vice-president of student success at Capilano University, said the North Shore school promotes its food supports through social media, student newsletters and physical messages on campus.
Levangie said one way to make food security more available to students is to integrate assistance into routine interactions on campus.
“We’re starting to bake it into the conversations we have with students, so that if finance or money comes up, food comes with it.”
Levangie said the university is piloting a project stocking its counselling offices with on-hand lunches for students, creating immediate access without needing an additional referral.
“[Counsellors] can actually just hand them a lunch kit and say, ‘here, take this for now, and a little more information for the next step.’”
Levangie said gift cards serve as an immediate option for students in need. But in addition, Capilano provides its own community cupboard in partnership with the Capilano Students’ Union, hosts weekly pop-up events that provide students with free produce and houses a food security table in its student affairs office.