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Sprouts patrons in mid-November

Vegan campus café launches free meal program

Sprouts Café staff say program aims to address campus food security 

By Elizabeth McDonald , in City , on November 25, 2021

A café at the University of British Columbia is now offering a free vegan and vegetarian meal program through funding provided by the university. 

The café launched the program at the beginning of November to address food insecurity. Sprouts’ vice-president Laura Gordon-Mitchell said the program is open to everyone.

“You can come from anywhere in Vancouver, and you don’t have to show any type of ID or anything like that,” said Gordon-Mitchell. “If you feel that you need a free meal, then you’re welcome to it.”

Located in the UBC Life Building basement, Sprouts dishes up food with funding through the university’s food security initiative. Gordon-Mitchell said the café received $27,000 from the school’s administration for the year to address food insecurity.

Sprouts is one of seven campus initiatives that received funding, including AMS Food Bank, Agora, UBC Meal Share, and Fooood. The total funding provided for food security from the school is $840,000

Sprouts has allocated $12,000 for free meals, with the remaining funds going to containers, cooking equipment, and grocery boxes.

Laura Gordon-Mitchell, Sprouts vice-president. Photo: Isabel Abdurahman

The free meal program started at the beginning of November and operates Monday to Thursday. There are 30 meals available each day, and anyone interested just has to grab a card at Sprouts’ till. The meal comes with one combo, for example, shepherd’s pie and a salad, as well as a tea or coffee.

The first two days of the program saw three out of 30 meal cards left over. Gordon-Mitchell said Sprouts would allocate more funds to the program if demand increases.

UBC wants to reduce food insecurity by 2025

As part of the university’s wellbeing strategic plan, the school aims to reduce food insecurity on campus by 2025. A 2019 survey about UBC’s undergraduate experience found that 37 per cent of students on campus reported “low to very low food security.” 

The university’s food-security project manager said food security became part of UBC’s wellbeing strategic framework after advocacy by students.

“It’s been student-led efforts like Sprouts and a chorus of students supporting students,” said Sara Kozicky.

A customer’s brownie from the counter at Sprouts

Kozicky said advocacy and data from the undergraduate experience survey resulted in UBC allocating funding to the food security initiative through increased tuition. 

The school is also launching a new digital food hub at the end of the month, a website dedicated to providing food-security resources to students on campus.