The picturesque UFV Hope Centre campus opened its doors to The Hope Standard for a bowl of soup and to discuss its unique food sharing program.
Students gathered around the campus’ kitchen table and spoke candidly of their experience at UFV, and how it has enriched their lives, as well as the benefits of accessibility, increased self-esteem and a sense of comradeship.
Hope Centre launched its food share cooperative this year. The program was created to alleviate stigmatization around accessing a food bank during the lean student years, and to promote a healthy standard of food security.
“The food sharing program is something we started this September — we wanted to alleviate food insecurity,” said UFV Hope Centre Coordinator Michelle Vandepol. “Students can take a few items one day and bring them back on pay day”.
Students have the opportunity to share food by trading items in an allotted kitchen cupboard on campus, and bringing them back when they can.
This allows the students to help one another cope with the financial worries of working less, raising families, and dealing with tuition.
“We determined a need, for one, because they’re students working minimum wage jobs — within the organization we knew that there were other food banks on other campuses and we had students assigned to those banks, waiting for delivery in a crisis, and it was a major stress situation. Sometimes all they needed was a can of soup for the night,” said Vandepol.
The food sharing program creates a casual environment, where students manage together, much like the community environment alive and well on campus. They ban together to help one another out, through a tight knit networking capacity, whether that be finding a job, or a new place to live.
The kitchen is often where the heart is, and a shared community lunch on Wednesday’s provides an opportunity for students and teachers to catch up, while enjoying a hearty bowl of chicken soup made by UFV math teacher Danica Matheson. The endearing students seemed at ease with one another. They were bright and upbeat as they openly discussed their lives and the food sharing program at UFV. Leah Felker is a mature student who finished upgrading this year, graduating at Christmas with her Adult Dogwood diploma. She has been with UFV for two years now, and is taking prep courses to begin her education toward a psychiatric nurse certification. The mother of three finds school a joy that provides a rare patch of time in her busy schedule, as she navigates the campus at Hope Centre.
“The hours are the same as my girls’. It was such a relief to come to school, it was like my time you know — I never really took time for myself before, now this is like my break, my relaxation,” she told The Hope Standard.
The straight A student enjoys the small class sizes and the accessibility of the location, as well as the convenience of the food sharing progam.
“If you don’t have dinner prepared for one night, it’s great. My girls have skating twice a week, so if you don’t have time to go to the grocery store it’s there — it’s come in handy many, many times,” she said. “I’ve brought lots of food to that cupboard and taken lots of food from that cupboard.”
Alice Byrd is currently the oldest Hope Centre student at 53 and has found the entire experience to be uplifting as well as confidence boosting.
“I’ve had to participate with the food bank and I’m not necessarily fond of it it, but here I can exchange the food, and it goes to somebody who needs it.”
Byrd is finishing her grade 12, and looking toward a career working in addictions and recovery.
“UFV is absolutely fabulous, I came from a grade seven education, thought I would try it, and it has been wonderful. The staff here are amazing,” she said.
Hope Centre has three full time staff including Danica Matheson, Kevin Renso and Mark Friesen that make the experience at UFV all the more rewarding. The expertise of the instructors in their fields is remarkable and the one on one attention has been profound to the learning success of the students.
Byrd is also working full time at the Swiss Chalet Motel in Hope and taking online courses, which she finds somewhat difficult as an auditory and visual learner, but access to instructors has eased her mind regarding some of those difficulties.
“For me, it’s size. I’m really unsure of myself in a large crowd, so having that access to one on one is invaluable to me. It’s one of the major reasons I’ve been able to stay committed to what I want to do and to believe in myself enough to know that I can do it,” she said.
For Byrd, the experience is about learning to communicate effectively with others and to become an active listener, so that she can better help people.
“Let’s put it this way, I have confidence now,” she said of her time spent at UFV.
Jesse Tobacco is a new student at Hope Centre and is currently upgrading her math and english, so she can move on to bigger and better things, like following her artistic inclinations.
“I think I would stick with UFV in the future, I don’t know what the other campuses are like, but the best thing about this one is that it’s small,” she said. “I’m from the city and I’ve never gone to school in the inner city, it’s always been super small classes, and I’m very accustomed to that.”
With students juggling so many priorities, the programs at UFV Hope Centre offer them a lifeline.
“If you’re waiting to get your degree, you’re probably working a couple of minimum wage jobs already, and if you’re a mature student you probably have family obligations as well, so if by having the food sharing program we can eliminate some of the stress all the better” said Vandepol.