About 150 university students a week are taking advantage of a community pantry set up to help those struggling through the coronavirus pandemic.
Federation University, Australian Catholic University and City of Ballarat teamed up to create community pantries at Fed Uni's Camp Street campus in the CBD, and its Mount Helen campus.
Stocked with groceries donated by Ballarat individuals and businesses, both universities, the St Vincent de Paul Society, City of Ballarat and fresh bread baked during Federation TAFE's bakery courses, the community pantry is part of council's Be Kind Ballarat campaign.
Staff from both universities have been distributing food, toiletries and blankets to domestic and international students experiencing hardship.
Wellbeing staff from the universities have also been on hand to offer support to students and help them access other services if needed.
Federation University's Ballarat Head of Campus Associate Professor Sam Henson said receiving support from the residents and City of Ballarat made students, particularly international students isolated from their families thousands of kilometres away, feel a special and welcomed part of the community.
"Early on in the pandemic we saw a need for support for our students and council had come up with the Be Kind Ballarat initiative," Associate Professor Henson said.
"For some of the international students in particular they really appreciate, with their family thousands of miles away, that this gives them a little sense that people actually care ... they have been really taken by this whole initiative and are very thankful."
Associate Professor Henson said most students understood the current situation and were fairly comfortable, but international students in particular had received little support from government.
For many the loss of part time work, or working reduced hours, had hit hard.
Federation University has set up its own programs offering extra support and financial relief to students to help them through.
"These students play an important role in our community and it has been heartening to see these organisations, and Ballarat residents, come together to show them support," Associate Professor Henson said.
ACU Ballarat Campus senior community engagement officer Bree Seamer said it was wonderful to work with Federation University and the City of Ballarat to support local students.
"By combining our resources, we have the best chance of helping our students through these very challenging times," she said.
"At ACU, community engagement is at the core of what we do, and we continually look for ways to make a positive difference in the lives of those experiencing disadvantage and marginalisation."
Associate Professor Henson said in addition to Federation TAFE baking students donating freshly baked bread to the community pantry, they had also recently forged a partnership with Soup Bus which operates near their bakery at the SMB campus.
"It's really nice for the bakery to be doing something useful for the community," he said. "The students get a buzz that the stuff they are baking is actually being used to help people around town."
At the community pantry, students can come and 'shop' or select the items they need from shelves and tables set up like a small supermarket.
"Students that come in and access some of the food we can talk to them about other their wellbeing and mental health and how they are coping," he said.
Ballarat mayor Cr Ben Taylor praised the generosity of the Ballarat community in supporting the students and others doing it tough during the coronavirus pandemic.
IN OTHER NEWS
"The Ballarat community has been extremely generous and extremely kind in donating to the Emergency Food Relief Drop-off Centre, located initially at the Ballarat Library and now at Morshead Park. The City of Ballarat is very proud of this food relief initiative and I would like to thank everyone who has dropped off tins or boxes or packets of food to support their fellow Ballarat residents over the past few months," he said.
"I would also like to commend Federation University and ACU for their work in providing invaluable and much-needed support to their domestic and international students via the community pantry initiative."
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