Hawkeye residents seek cambus route for groceries

BY LINI GE | MARCH 12, 2009 7:27 AM

Ahmed Al Zahrani’s family still enjoy home-cooked meals at least twice a day since moving to Iowa City eight months ago. But grocery shopping more than once a week can be painful for the family from Saudi Arabia — they don’t have a car.

The family travel to five local grocery stores regularly, sometimes on foot but mostly by Iowa City and Coralville buses. Transportation to Super Wal-Mart in Coralville alone takes at least two hours.
“Time is an important factor with everyone studying at the university. Without a car, it is a hard situation …” said Al Zahrani, who plans to attend graduate school at the UI this fall.

Al Zahrani’s family is among a number of UI international students and scholars facing this problem, especially those living in the University Apartments on Hawkeye Drive and Hawkeye Court. As of Feb. 27, 385 of the residents — 66.4 percent — are international tenants, according to University Apartments manager Helen Baker.

People such as Al Zahrani may now have a solution to their problem, thanks to recent efforts from community assistants — UI students who assist University Apartments residents with potential needs — to negotiate with the Cambus office on possible grocery rides.

Gulcin Aydin, a graduate student in counselor education and supervision from Turkey, is among the community assistants who initiated the idea. She faced the same problem when she first came to the UI, and again when her car broke down last fall. She has also learned roughly 30 to 40 percent of the residents have the same concern.

Deng Ding came to the UI in the fall of 2007 and had to rely on her friends’ help for grocery shopping for a year before she bought a car.

“My roommate and I always made several calls to our friends to ask if one of them could give us a ride,” said Ding, a graduate student in geography from China.

But some people may not feel comfortable asking for such help.

“It’s not easy for people to ask their neighbors or friends for rides,” Aydin said. “Mainly people feel that they are being burdens to others.”

The community assistants, together with their supervisor Lona Davenport — apartment coordinator of the University Apartments and a UI graduate student in student development in post-secondary education — started brainstorming ideas earlier this semester. The team reached an agreement that it’s worth trying to seek cooperation with the Cambus office.

“We can’t afford to fund a bus by ourselves on a regular basis,” Davenport said. “Also, one bus every week is more sustainable than 40 cars going individually.”

During last week’s staff meeting, Davenport assigned the community assistants to find out how many residents are interested in the potential service. The team is drafting a proposal this week, which will be presented to the Cambus office a few weeks after spring break.

An important task during the composition of the proposal is to foresee potential barriers when negotiating with the administration, Aydin said. For example, if an argument is made that the UI does not offer the service for students living in the dorms, the community assistants will provide the counter-argument that residents at the University Apartments are not required to have a meal plan.

“Foreseeing those road blocks and barriers for this project to take place, and making a case to eliminate [them], will be a key element to accomplish this project proposal to become an implemented service for the community,” Aydin said.

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