VICTORIA -- Students who are struggling during the pandemic are getting an extra helping hand as they return to post-secondary studies at Camosun College.

In mid-August, the college began a food hamper program to provide students with fresh local produce, canned goods, tasty prepared meals and more.

“We had gotten a lot of emails from students that had lost their jobs; their families back home had lost their jobs and so they didn’t have the finances coming in to support them anymore,” says Theresa Wanninger, an international student experience advisor at Camosun College.

Wanninger, originally from Germany, was once a foreign student herself and understands how challenging being in a new country on your own can be. She felt the need to help and enlisted a fellow colleague to get things rolling.

“When we presented the ‘Camosun Cares’ initiative to the college and the culinary arts department, the result was incredible,” says Miki Speirs, who is the assistant to the director of Camosun International.

“This initiative speaks the true value of Camosun College: Students come first,” Speirs said.

When Steve Walker-Duncan, the college’s culinary arts chair, heard about the idea, he was excited to get started.

“When Miki and Theresa came to us with this concept, we leapt onboard right away,” he said. “There was no question as to whether we would be part of it.”

Every Thursday for the past 6 weeks, an army of volunteers, students and Camosun employee has put together 30 hampers full of nutritional food and delivered them to the doorsteps of hungry learners.

The hampers are available to any student who requests them on a first-come, first-served basis.

So far, 200 hampers have been handed out to 180 students in the Greater Victoria area.

The reaction from students has been one of gratitude.

“When I got a call from Camosun about the hamper, it was really overwhelming and it was really nice,” said Sneha Das, an international student from India studying accounting at the college.

Das speaks glowingly of the support that the College has shown her during the pandemic, and she is not alone; one student even made a YouTube video documenting her hamper.

The initiative not only helps fill a need to feed students, it also provides Camosun College students enrolled in the culinary arts program an outlet, creating fully prepared frozen meals to put in the hampers.

“This was a great opportunity for the students to still be able to do their applied learning and provide food for a sector of the population that really needs it,” Walker-Duncan said.

The Camosun Students Society has provided much of the funding for the hampers and there has been much support from the college and community organizations; all working together to make the “Camosun Cares” project possible.

Unfortunately, in two weeks the program is scheduled to end, but organizers hope they can extend it with donations from the public. A $45 donation will create a hamper that will keep a student going for days.

Wanninger is hopeful the program will continue and hopes to create a similar hamper program around the December holidays.

“To be able to show up for them and to give back that amazing experience I had at Camosun when I was a student means the world to me,” she said.

“If they eat well, they are going to learn well,” says Walker-Duncan, “You can’t help but feel good.”

To donate or learn more about the program and all the community organizations helping to make it happen, visit the Camosun College Foundation website