> A closer look
Anna is the 2022 President of the UTS Students’ Association (UTSSA). In 2021 she was co-convenor of the SA’s Enviro Collective and in 2020 their Environment Officer. Over three years at UTS she has been actively involved in the student environment community . This year, in her role of President, her key priorities are making the SA more accessible to the average student by making the SA more welcoming and creating new ways for students to participate and engage. A manifestation of this is the newly established free student Bluebird and Night Owl Pantry. Other ongoing SA campaigns include: fossil fuel divestment (while UTS has committed to divest the SA is monitoring the situation and liaising with management until the process is completed); action on quality education (resisting staff cuts); examining university/corporate partnerships, and advocating for improvements to the ‘Respect Now Always’ campaign on campus.
Over ten years ago the UTSSA established and continues to run the Bluebird Brekkie Bar, a pop-up café providing free healthy breakfasts for students. The initiative won an Australasian Green Gown Award (student initiatives category) in 2012, and the International Green Gown Award in 2013. In 2016 the UTSSA expanded the initiative by creating the Night Owl Noodle Bar, providing free noodle soups to students two evenings per week. Prior to the COVID pandemic Bluebird and Night Owl were providing over 4000 free meals to students per week. Post COVID, as the students transition back to campus they are providing approximately 3000 meals per week.
The COVID pandemic had a massive financial impact on students, especially International students, many of whom relied on part-time and casual work to survive. Most students lost income in 2020 and 2021 and the UTS Students’ Association saw first hand the struggles being faced by some students to survive. They identified a need in the student body for essential pantry items to help students through acute periods of financial stress. And so the idea for a free student pantry was born.
In her role of President, Anna Thieben helped identify the need for items beyond hot meals to other key household items such as hygiene products and laundry soap. Anna initiated the new Bluebird and Night Owl Pantry. But she didn’t do it alone, she brought together, and guided a keen group of students to develop and implement the initiative.
Firstly, they needed a suitable location on campus and sadly the UTS Co-op had become unviable during the COVID lockdowns and had closed. The small shop front used by the Co-op was in a central location near the main Food Court on Campus (in the UTS Central Building) and was available. Anna contacted UTS Commercial who administered the space and confirmed the space was available. Next she reached out to key stakeholders across the university to build a network of supporters – UTS Sustainability, Space Planning, UTS Housing, and Central Services. With support from these stakeholders, she then approached the key decision maker – the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Students and Education). She secured senior executive support and the project was to become a reality.
Next the team of organising students, led by Anna, had a rolling series of meetings to work out logistics and operational issues. They organised working bees to clean out the space, and re-purposed some of the internal shelving and equipment from the old Co-op that was well suited to a new life in the Bluebird and Night Owl Pantry.
They sourced donated non-perishable food and other basic household items to stock the space and on 6 May 2022 the Bluebird and Night Owl Pantry opened, providing free pantry items to students in need.