First Nations University fills student stomachs with new affordable lunch program

CMHA workers pitched in to feed students at First Nations University Wednesday. Arthur White-Crummey/Daily Herald

Students at the P.A. campus at First Nations University can now buy a hot lunch for pocket change, thanks to a subsidized program the student union president calls “the first of its type” in Saskatchewan.

The affordable lunch program launched on Wednesday, with staff from the Canadian Mental Health Association serving up hot stew and fresh bannock. Thanks to a partnership between CMHA, the University of Regina Students’ Union and the local student union for First Nations University, students only pay $2.50.

Trevor Dubois, president of the local student union, said the program meets a serious need.

“Many of our students are parents,” he said. “A lot of them come to school and they’re worried about feeding their kids – and they forget to feed themselves. We believe that with a full stomach it gives them an opportunity to learn more.”

He said he called around to other universities in Saskatchewan, and found that they only offered for-profit lunches to their students. That would make the new affordable lunch program the first subsidized program at a Saskatchewan university. So far, it’s only offered at the Prince Albert campus of FNU.

Dubois hopes it will catch on elsewhere.

“I definitely hope that other universities pick up on it,” he said. “We believe that having an affordable lunch program would help ease the financial burden that students experience.”

Clients of the Canadian Mental Health Association help prepare the meals. They sell them to the lunch program for $5 per serving, and the two student unions subsidize half the cost. Dubois said they prepared enough to feed about 40 or 50 students for the inaugural day on Wednesday. Going forward, the program will run three days per week through the whole school year.

He said the first day makes him “kind of nervous.” But there was already a short lineup of hungry students forming shortly after 11 a.m.

Diana Rodas was one of them. A first-year social work student, she said the program is a convenient way to grab a bite between classes.

“It’s definitely very affordable,” she said, “because $2.50 is like a soda, so it’s really good for people who are struggling.”

With bannock, stew and a cookie, she said “you get a lot for your buck.”

“It smells great. I think I’ll enjoy it,” she said.

Rodas wanted to commend the organizers, like Dubois, who worked to make the program a reality.

“I just think it’s very courageous of the people to do that,” she said. “The fact they can make it so affordable, they must be really organized.”

Dubois said the program seemed like a natural fit for a campus geared to First Nations people, who often view sharing food as a community as a way of life.

“It’s part of many ceremonies, it’s a part of many traditions and any First Nations people I know like a good meal,” he said. “I know I do.”