Good Food Centre sees 512% increase in use, TMSU says

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By Rajalaxmi Nayak

The Good Food Centre (GFC) said it has seen a dramatic increase in the number of students using its services since it re-opened on campus last semester. 

The food bank is an organization under the Toronto Metropolitan Students’ Union (TMSU) that advocates for the food security rights of post-secondary students and supports Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) students facing food insecurity, according to its website

The drop-in services reopened in Sept. 2022, after their pandemic closure, said staff member Tasneem Rashid.

GFC operational lead Lauren Barch said the campus location saw a limited number of students who went by to pick up groceries between September and December of 2022.

But since the centre reopened after the winter break on Jan. 18, 2023, Barch said there have been long lineups.

The TMSU said in a statement to The Eyeopener that they have seen a 512 per cent increase in GFC users since the start of this academic year.

The centre is open from Wednesday to Friday. It opens from 1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, after the centre receives its grocery stock for the week earlier in the day. 

On Thursdays, the centre opens at noon and closes at 6 p.m. Depending on stock, the GFC is open from noon until 3 p.m. on Fridays.

Rashid said the GFC has been getting additional students signing up every week. 

“There’s been a lot more members coming in and using the service compared to when we first opened,” she said. 

Liana Yadav, a first-year business management student who recently started using the weekly service, said it made a difference to her grocery bills as an international student.

“It is [good] to know that somebody on campus is thinking about students like me,” she said in an interview.

TMU community members who register for the food bank membership are asked to fill out a short questionnaire about the size of their household and if there are any dependents they are supporting. This helps the food bank determine how many points to give students.

Accordingly, participants are given at least ten points each week that they can exchange for groceries like milk, vegetables, meat and other necessities. 

Abdul Wahab, a second-year economics and finance student, has been using the service since September. 

“As now more and more people come to know of it every week, by the time I usually get there, more of the stuff is already gone,” he said.

With the increase in demand, the centre is working towards bringing in more sponsorships and donations.

As of now, the GFC mainly relies on monetary donations to purchase food from the Daily Bread Food Bank, an organization that supports food banks across the Greater Toronto Area.

“I’m not sure how much or who contributes exactly what amount, but usually when we do get donations, it’s funds, not food specifically,” said Barch.

“There’s been a lot more members coming in and using the service compared to when we first opened”

It’s not just the GFC that is seeing a rise in demand.

According to Food Banks Canada, there were a total of over 1.4 million visits to food banks across Canada in March of 2022 alone.

This rate of food bank usage shows a 15 per cent increase since March 2021 and a 35 per cent increase from pre-pandemic times.

According to Statistics Canada, yearly food prices rose by 11.4 per cent for groceries purchased in stores.

Barch finds it rewarding to see more people benefiting from the food bank. 

“Sometimes, asking for help is really hard for certain people,” said Barch. 

Added support for students

“I think the rise in numbers just shows that people are more comfortable with using the service.”

The GFC asks about the students’ dietary restrictions and allergies, which Wahab said was a relief for him since he only consumes halal meat. 

“We’re also trying to introduce more culturally inclusive foods,” said Barch. “We’re going to be starting to implement that this semester.”

Barch said currently, the food bank is working on a “hunger report” to assess the extent of food insecurity in the TMU student population to re-evaluate and improve their outreach efforts since the reopening of campus. 

In addition to the food bank, the GFC also posts recipes on their social media and runs equity-related events.

“The goal we should be looking towards is a system in which food banks aren’t needed”

“We would have breakfast days, where we would have coffee and hot chocolate, just as something to start. We definitely plan on having more events with other equity services,” said Rashid. She also said any food that looks like it is nearly expired is handed out to random students on campus.

The GFC also has a community garden in which they grow lettuce, beets, cucumbers and broccoli, according to their website. The garden’s produce is used to provide the food bank with local and fresh produce.

The TMSU told The Eyeopener that the community garden has been cleaned up and will be reopening in the spring of 2023.

Hunger across Canada

Tim Li, a research program coordinator at PROOF, a research program at the University of Toronto that studies food insecurity in Canada, said more attention needs to be placed on the causes of food insecurity among post-secondary students in Canada. 

“We need to have more research and a frank conversation around all these aspects that play into students’ financial circumstances and their ability to feed themselves,” Li said.

He noted that food insecurity in a community is a symptom of a deeper problem rooted in the inadequacy of incomes and a lack of income support programs from the government. 

Li said food banks are only a temporary solution as Canada works towards bringing systemic change. 

“The problem is too big and too severe and it’s rooted in something deeper that is really about the inadequacy of our income. So really the inadequacy of wages, the inadequacy of income supports in Canada,” he said.

“The goal we should be looking towards is a system in which food banks aren’t needed,” Li added. 

With files from Gabriela Silva Pointe

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