UTMSU’s Food Bank is calling for more space and resources to help meet growing student needs.
At a meeting of the Food Service Advisory Committee last June, food bank coordinator Nourhan Afify spoke about the issues the food bank is facing.
Perception was among the most urgent problems Afify identified.
“Many students who could benefit from this service feel uncomfortable using it because of the social stigma associated with poverty and food insecurity,” said Afify in an interview.
She added that some students simply do not know that the campus food bank exists.
To help increase awareness of the food bank, Afify is planning to launch a marketing campaign so that more students will know of its existence.
According to the minutes of the FSAC, only 13 students were using the campus food bank two years ago. Last year, that number increased to 48 students. And from last June to August, Afify said that the food bank was accessed 86 times. That number includes students who used it multiple times and also factors in their dependents.
“Another issue is the quality of our food,” said Afify, noting that the food bank mostly has canned food, although a new fridge means this may not be required.
Space is another problem. Currently, the food bank operates in a cramped storage room in the Student Centre.
“Our office is the size of a closet. Actually, some closets are bigger than our office,” said Afify. “We could barely fit food inside the office, let alone people. The Director of Hospitality and Retail Services has spoken to me about the possibility of accessing a bigger space.”
Afify noted that the space would not be permanent and that the new space has yet to be confirmed.
The bank also requires a freezer to store the donations it receives from the Mississauga Food Bank, says Afify, with whom the food bank is registered.
“There are talks of receiving a freezer if we are able to move locations,” she noted.
New initiatives being organized to support the food bank include a volunteer-run Food Garden Project to grow UTM’s own produce.
Policy changes are also on the table.
“We are in the process of policy-building to increase accountability and transparency for our members. Currently one-on-one meetings are being set up with volunteers and members in order to discuss the transformation and policy,” said Afify.
Afify explained that the food bank is also in the process of transitioning into a “Food Centre” to place a greater focus on community relations and healthy food as a human right, and attempts to address deeper causes of food insecurity.
The UTMSU Food Bank receives funding through an annual student levy, which was passed through a referendum in 2009 after the food bank stopped receiving donations from FoodPath. Afify mentioned at the FSAC meeting that UTMSU directors decide how to spend the funds from the levy.
The UTMSU preliminary operating budget for 2013/14 lists the food bank’s annual budget as $12,315. After subtracting the expected expenditure for the year—including the cost of staff and food—$2,790 was expected to be left over.