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Helping hand for UC students during crisis

Katarina Slavich

8 April 2020: University of Canberra students who are experiencing financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 situation will have access to care packages to help them through this challenging time.

The University’s Advancement team, the Canberra Relief Network (CRN) and the UC eXperience (UCX) team have partnered to bring care packages full of essential food and hygiene items to students in need.

The CRN is a not-for-profit organisation and is the ACT Government’s response to the Canberra community’s increasing demand for food and non-perishable essential items due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. The concept is a collaborative network of established social service and emergency relief providers in the ACT, led by UnitingCare Kippax.

Cindy Mitchell, CEO of the Mill House Ventures based at the University of Canberra, has taken on the role of Executive Officer – Communications at the CRN during this time, after the not-for-profit graduated from the Mill House Social Enterprise Accelerator program last year.

“When the CEO put UnitingCare Kippax forward as the lead agency, he asked for my help,” said Ms Mitchell.

“It is a great example of social enterprises coming together in a time of crisis.”

Ms Mitchell’s close connection with the University allowed a partnership to be developed so students could also benefit from the care packages the CRN is putting together.

The packages provide pantry essentials designed to support a family of four for one week. They contain items such as noodles, pasta, tomato sauce, Vegemite, peanut butter, oats, cereal, canned fruit and vegetables and of course, toilet paper.

“Food insecurity is a challenge for many university students at the best of times,” said Ms Mitchell.

“Combine that with a global pandemic, closing of businesses, lay-offs of many casual workers and limited opportunities for international students to return home and you have a perfect storm.”

“The idea is that if the students have the basics, it frees up their scarce resources to be able to buy other fresh food to supplement their diet.”

Roughly 120 hampers are going to University students in need this week, through the UCX Food Pantry, which usually offers grocery items to students based on a points system. UCX will call for further registrations as more resources become available.

Director of UCX Sarah Jennett says that their supply channels have been challenged, and partnering with the CRN means that they are able to continue making life a bit easier for students.

“It is imperative that we support our students at this time when many have lost their incomes and face many uncertainties in juggling their studies in these challenging times,” said Ms Jennett.

Ms Mitchell says the idea of the care packages isn’t only to supply students who are struggling with the essentials.  It also gives them an opportunity to connect with other people.

“Many students are anxious and fearful during this time. They might also need to connect to mental health, medical, social or academic support,” said Ms Mitchell.

“Food insecurity is not just a problem on its own; it can also be a symptom of other problems. We all need reassurance that we are valued and valuable. Our food hampers are love and care in a box!”

Ms Mitchell says the availability of fresh, healthy and low-cost food for all students at the University is not just a matter of convenience, but also an issue of food justice and equity.

University of Canberra students who are facing financial hardship during this time can order a care package here.