Augustana students’ association introduces new Food Pantry service

The ASA Food Pantry offers supplementary food hampers to Augustana students to help alleviate the pressures of food and financial insecurity.

Tia Lalani - 01 February 2021

In the spring of 2020, Rebecca Nicholson, vice-president of communications with the Augustana Students’ Association, realized that COVID-19 wasn’t going anywhere and that the learn-from-home and quarantine orders would similarly remain. Although, like many other students and people around the world, the pandemic put a lot of additional stress on Nicholson, it also gave her the time to pursue an idea that had been percolating since the year before.

“COVID really highlighted financial insecurity issues within our students, because a lot of people were out of work,” Nicholson said. “I had been involved in discussions about the student experience at Augustana, and we often talked about the issue of food insecurity. Quarantine gave me a bit more freedom with my time so I was able to approach the issue. I didn’t see anyone else taking the initiative so I thought, ‘I’m going to be that person’.”

Nine months later, the ASA officially rolled out their Food Pantry—a service available to all Augustana students to supplement their grocery needs once or twice per month. Precipitated by a pandemic, a need and a great amount of hard work, the first few hampers were given out in December and January, and Nicholson only intends to grow the program from there. 

Food insecurity as financial insecurity

“The ASA has a few scholarships and bursaries available, but food is an easy way to manifest some sort of extra financial help to students,” Nicholson explained when asked about the importance of the service. “Food insecurity is an issue of financial insecurity—it just takes the form of food. Our service can also be a bit more widespread and can be offered in smaller increments. If a student is struggling a little bit and just needs a few extra meals for the week, they can get a hamper for that.”

Being a student herself, Nicholson understands what it’s like to struggle, as well as how difficult the realities of purchasing and cooking your own food for the first time can be.

“University is often the first time that students are on their own,” she said. “Most don’t know how to save or budget their money or cook for themselves, instead opting for expensive brands or take out.”

Which is why the ASA plans to expand the program in following years to also include an educational component, eventually providing resources on simple grocery carts on a budget or workshops and classes that teach students how to elevate a packet of ramen—there are many great ways, according to Nicholson—and to promote student deals at local grocers in town.

The ASA plans to look to the University of Alberta’s North Campus Food Bank—which already does this type of programming—for help in the future. In fact, the ASA has already benefited from their advice on how to set up the pantry, the program they use to keep track of clients and their extra food reserves.

With a little help from my friends

A photo of Rebecca Nicholson, VP communications with the ASA, in a scarf with leaves behind her.Along with assistance from North Campus, Nicholson has been blown away by the support that the program has already been offered by Augustana and local businesses.

The Food Pantry has been working with Save On Foods, as well as Wild Rose Foodservice (the local wholesale distributors) who are currently providing discounts and have expressed interest in donating to the program financially in the future.

Augustana dean Demetres Tryphonopoulos also offered to donate all of this year’s dean’s fund to the program. 

“It was very sweet and a huge step in realizing that the food pantry was something that was actually going to happen,” Nicholson shared. “I’ll be forever grateful for that and the unwavering support that it meant.”

The Augustana Office of Advancement also stepped in, providing the ASA with access to the Alumni Student Support and Engagement Team for volunteer support, as well as by setting up a donation fund that’s open to staff, faculty and community members.

Nicholson and the ASA also hope to apply for government grants for the program and plan to hold food drives when COVID restrictions are lifted.

“Frankly, the easiest way for people to support the pantry is with financial donations, especially during COVID,” Nicholson said. “They allow us to purchase the items that students need in the hampers, items that sometimes people don’t think to donate.”

Addressing food insecurity into the future

For Nicholson, the most exciting part of this entire Food Pantry initiative is the fact that it will be a continuing service of the Augustana Students’ Association.

“Although we’re just getting the program started, we’ve done all of the groundwork to ensure that someone gets appointed to continue the program each year,” Nicholson explained, thanking the ASA’s manager, Cindy Roose, for her work in aiding with the longevity of the program.

Aside from fundraising, the next steps are to get the word out to the people that the Food Pantry will benefit most: Augustana students.

“It’s important to note that the Food Pantry isn’t meant to be a community program. Although the ASA will definitely continue to do its annual food drive for the Camrose Food Bank and keep supporting the community, we find that students either can’t or don’t feel comfortable going to the food bank. Students tend not to think they’re ‘in need’ enough, and use language like ‘I don’t need the help, maybe someone else needs it more’,” Nicholson explained. “Which is why we wanted to call this service a 'Food Pantry'—I wanted it to be approachable, easy and light. And the term ‘pantry’ really encompasses the goals of the service better: students are welcome to just grab what they need, not because they’re doing ‘badly’. Sometimes, people just need a bit of help.”

If you’d like to donate to the ASA Food Pantry, please visit this Augustana Giving page.

If you are an Augustana student who would like to sign up for the Food Pantry, please click here