At first glance, the snaking queue of students in the Leslie Social Science Building might be aiming for Lecture Theatre 2B. But follow it down and it leads to the busy well of the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) student Food Programme where volunteers have packed crates upon crates of brown-bag lunches.
Each contains two healthy sandwiches, fruit and a fruit juice. These are dispensed in the Leslie Building at 11:00, 12:00 and 13:00 to ensure that students in later classes also benefit.
The programme provides 600 lunches daily for students on upper campus, the College of Music, Hiddingh campus and the Child Guidance Clinic.
The lunches are made up, packed and distributed by volunteers from staff, including residence catering and transport staff (on top of their usual duties), students and the public.
This week the delivery of a double-door fridge, a donation from the Strategic Fuel Fund (SFF) secured by UCT’s Department of Social Development’s Dr Chance Chagunda, is creating a buzz. It will keep the juices cool and provide cold storage for perishables.
Chagunda’s department started the feeding programme in April last year when they realised how many students were going hungry, the result of funding problems or circumstances.
Social development master’s student and Food Programme volunteer Gabriella Jacobs said their work tackles social problems in the broader community.
“We thought, well, why not at home?”
Gnawing national issue
Student hunger is a growing national challenge. Last year the National Research Foundation’s Stephen Devereux made headlines when he reported that more than 30% of the country’s students are food insecure, compared with 26% of the population. He was speaking at the National Colloquium on Access to Food for Students.
The situation is aggravated by the failures of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, particularly the inadequacy of food vouchers, he said.
“The overall picture is that campus food insecurity is much higher than we realised.”
“For the past two years UCT had worked hard on student finance and accommodation. And food was the third element.”
Speaking at the fridge donation event, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Loretta Feris said: “For the past two years UCT had worked hard on student finance and accommodation. Food was the third element.”
Though the Department of Social Development’s feeding project did make a dent in the need, more was required. In anticipation of the strenuous year-end exam period in 2018, when students would need to be fed to perform at their best, the Food Security Task Team used the department’s existing initiative as a platform. The Food Security Task Team includes multiple stakeholders such as student organisations and staff.
“We wanted to ensure that students were able to perform academically, and to do what they had come here to do,” said Feris.
Viable food solutions
However, without a budget, the team relied on donations and people giving their time to ensure it happened. UCT’s International Academic Programmes Office (IAPO) provided some funding and the student housing and UCT Food & Connect programme also assisted.
But the queue in the Leslie Building puts a physical face to food insecurity. It also raises questions around viability; how to keep feeding the many in a climate of austerity?
Feris said a special task team within the Department of Student Affairs is developing a sustainable food programme. This will explore various options for food security – and harness the spirit of volunteerism that has already rallied the UCT and broader community. Chagunda is part of the task team.
“We wanted to help”
One of the brightest smiles at the fridge donation event belonged to SFF’s Matheko Moshoeshoe-Madi. She had visited the food programme previously and knew a fridge would be “ideal to help with the programme”.
“We advocate for education but we [as a country] are going through issues of poverty. Yet students are willing to come to varsity to learn, not knowing where their next plate of food is coming from. We wanted to help.”
Many others do too, including a large group of students. Jacobs said students can sign up for shifts that suit their academic programme; one or two a week as everyone shares the load.
“The best part about participating in the programme is that you meet like-minded people.”
“The best part about participating in the programme is that you meet like-minded people; people with a passion for giving back to the community.”
They also get to know their peers from other parts of campus.
“Now we get to meet students from engineering and the arts,” she said.
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