The UTM library’s Food for Fines reached a new record this year by collecting 1,244 items, which were forwarded to the UTMSU Food Bank.
The annual food drive allows students to be relieved of library fines in exchange for non-perishable food donations.
“The food bank’s biggest goal from the Food for Fines is to stock up on all the non-perishable items that we need so that we could use our funds to purchase perishable items,” said food bank coordinator Noura Afify, adding that the drive would give the bank a greater chance to spend its money on items like milk and vegetables, which are not easy to get through donations.
“You could say that the Food for Fines program is our rock. Every food bank needs these non-perishable foods in order to make sure that its members have access to the basic need to cook,” said Afify.
According to Shane Chan, assistant supervisor at the UTM library and one of the organizers of the Food for Fines, the initiative was created three years ago. The Food for Fines project began in downtown Toronto at a number of university and public libraries. The University of Toronto decided to adopt it afterwards.
Chan was very pleased that many students had brought more than what was needed to pay their fines. “I know one particular person who brought three bags of food, just for the spirit of giving,” Chan said. He added that there were others who gave without any fines to recoup.
The UTMSU Food Bank’s goal is to ensure that students with “food insecurity”, i.e. who are at risk of being without proper nutrition, have access to nutritious food and skills to identify nutritious choices.
“We want our members to feel safe and to feel respected when using our service. We want our members to have a voice in the food system and to work on solutions together that put an end to the big problem of food insecurity,” said Afify.
In past years, the UTMSU Food Bank was not able to accept some of the donations from the initiative. According to Afify, certain items that were donated were not what the bank was looking for, since it already had an excess of, for example, condensed soup, which library staff were asked to sort separately.
Food bank members also tended to not take those particular items, said Afify, who explained that according to an agreement with Mississauga Food Banks, the UTMSU Food Bank would not keep food unlikely to be used but pass it on. So the bank took the unwanted items from the Food for Fines and gave them away to other food banks that did want them.
A few things changed this year, which allowed the UTMSU Food Bank to accept all the donations from Food for Fines. Afify said that the number of members using the bank increased, and they were willing to take items that no one wanted before. Also, the Food Bank moved its office from the Student Centre to a more spacious one in Davis.
In previous years, the food bank has underspent the levy raised from student fees to support it, and excess funds roll over into UTMSU’s operating budget.
According to this year’s preliminary budget, the full value of its levy and more is projected to be spent, largely because of the almost doubled staff expenses over the previous year. The actuals remains to be seen at the end of the financial year.
This is UTM’s third year of the Food for Fines drive. In its first year, about 900 items were collected. Last year, the figure increased to 1,104 items.