Our Campus: Taruni Singh is feeding UBC through the AMS Food Bank

For over 10 years, the AMS Food Bank has been providing relief to hungry students. Second-year arts student Taruni Singh has taken the reins from her older brother this year, and is continuing the program’s growth as its coordinator.

The Food Bank is a food relief service for UBC students, which according to their website, offers “various non-perishable foods, personal hygiene supplies and information about additional resources on and off-campus.” Each student gets six visits per term, during which an individual can fill up one tote bag of food, and a family can take home two.

Despite recording close to 70 visits per month since Singh took over the coordinator role in April, many students don’t have a good sense of what the service is for. As such, Singh wants to make the Food Bank’s purpose very clear.

“For the most part, when you tell people [about the Food Bank], they don’t quite understand what that is. I’ve had people come in thinking that we cook them food and give it to them. No, we give you groceries for it,” she said.

To use the service, one must be a registered student and present their valid UBC card. During the first visit, there is what Singh calls a “quick little registration process” which includes filling out one’s student number, sources of income, place of residence and number of dependents.

The personal information that people submit is kept strictly confidential, and is viewed only when necessary by the Food Bank coordinator.

“We gather the information for statistical purposes and we don’t turn anyone away. Unfortunately, we do have to keep track of that, to make sure that students are using it and keep track of how many visits there are,” Singh said.

The Food Bank is located on the second floor, room 2131 of the Nest. If you have no idea where that is, it's partially by design. According to Singh, the location was chosen because it offers heightened privacy, so clients can have a sense of security and privacy while using the service.

“We wouldn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. In terms of our location, we keep our blinds closed so people don’t peer in and see who’s in here. When we were in our old location, we actually set up the soup cans in front of the door so if people peered through the door, it would block their face,” Singh said.

Since opening its doors in spring 2005, the Food Bank has seen visits rise from five per semester to almost 70 a month. Despite this, Singh believes there is still a misconception about the scale of malnourishment at UBC and about the type of individuals that use the service.

“Just because UBC is located in a wealthy area doesn’t mean that everyone who goes here is wealthy or can afford certain things. And that’s a huge misconception, especially in Point Grey,” she said.

This can lead to people viewing the service as superficial. At an event last year, Singh heard someone say, “Oh, my son goes to UBC — he doesn’t need to use the Food Bank. It’s other people who use it.”

But for these other people that use the service, Singh believes it is essential.

“We do have our regulars that come pretty often, then we have those people who will come once, just until their student loans come in or something,” she said.

The Food Bank procures its food in part through donations and partially with its purchasing budget. By partnering with AMS purchasing, the Food Bank maximizes the efficiency of its budget.

“For every dollar we spend, it’s actually like getting three dollars’ worth of food because they get it straight from suppliers,” said Singh.

However, donations are an integral part of the supply chain.

“We try to get as much donation as possible, because if we were to purchase everything, we would go off [budget] very fast,” said Singh.

This includes student-led initiatives such as Trick-or-Eat, which partnered with the Meal Exchange to get food donations from the off-campus community, and corporate sponsorships such as the Save-On-Foods at Wesbrook Village, which donates a variety of non-perishables to the AMS Food Bank.

The Food Bank is run primarily by volunteers, and while all the coordinator roles have been filled for the year, you can apply to volunteer online here.