Hot Lunch showcases the power of food to unite

Sandra Shepard

Sandra Shepard, Assistant Principal, St John’s College

How often do you exchange emails with colleagues you haven’t met in person?

When your workplace is as big as UBC, it’s not difficult to see how this could be a common experience. Yet a monthly staff networking event – Hot Lunch – is aimed at changing this experience for the better.

“Hot Lunch is about finding ways to get people out of their offices and to help people put faces to names,” says Sandra Shepard, Assistant Principal of St. John’s College at UBC and a founding member of the Hot Lunch Steering Committee.

“It’s about giving people the opportunity to meet and talk to each other.”

In her 30 years as a member of UBC’s staff community, Sandra has developed a deep appreciation for meeting colleagues face-to-face.

“UBC is such a big place, and it can be very complex,” Sandra acknowledges. “But the more we can get to know each other, the better we’re able to know this place, and the more connected we can feel.”

Forming connections is something that Sandra and the team at St. John’s College are well-versed in, with their work focused on supporting the community of 160 UBC graduate students who call the college home.

More than just a place to live, the college celebrates dining with fellow students as a central component of their experience. “At the end of a long day, the students can come back to the college knowing they’re going to meet with friends over dinner,” Sandra notes.

“Eating is a common human experience – when you eat with someone, you form a different kind of relationship than you would sitting across a desk.”

In 2013, having witnessed the power of food to unite, Sandra and the Principal of the College, Henry Yu, began to think about how the same concept could benefit staff. Sandra says: “We decided to meet with our colleagues in Human Resources to explore opportunities, and from there the idea for Hot Lunch was born.”

Not long afterwards, a newly formed steering committee began planning the lunches, which are a joint initiative between St. John’s College, Human Resources, and the offices of UBC’s vice-presidents. Three years after the first lunch, the program remains a huge success.

While staff may remark on the high quality of the food – the buffet meals served at each event are beautifully prepared and equally delicious – the heart of Hot Lunch is about connection.

And it’s not just about getting to know fellow colleagues.

A central component of Hot Lunch is the opportunity to hear from a different member of UBC’s senior leadership team after lunch is served. Past speakers at Hot Lunch have included Lisa Castle, Vice-President of Human Resources, and Dr. Martha C. Piper, former President and Vice-Chancellor.

“It helps us get to know UBC’s senior leaders, to ask them questions, and to better understand who they are. We can learn a little bit about what drives them and the decisions they make,” Sandra explains.

Ultimately, Sandra’s vision is that staff who attend Hot Lunch leave the event with a sense of belonging, and the knowledge that they’re part of a community.

“We want people to walk away from Hot Lunch with a feeling that they’re not alone or isolated in their units – that there are other people on campus who face similar joys and frustrations, and that we can help each other.”

Staff interested in attending Hot Lunch are invited to book online, and can look forward to an exciting line-up of speakers at upcoming events in 2016, including Professor Santa Ono, President and Vice-Chancellor of UBC (September 28), Gilles Lépine, Senior Athletics Director of UBC Athletics (October 26), and Philip Steenkamp, Vice-President of External Relations (November 30).