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Op-ed: Food is a right, not a privilege

Growth in store for the SCSU Food Centre
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The SCSU Food Centre provides meals to hundreds each year. PHOTO VIA SCSU FOOD CENTRE/FACEBOOK
The SCSU Food Centre provides meals to hundreds each year. PHOTO VIA SCSU FOOD CENTRE/FACEBOOK

Room 210B of the Student Centre at UTSC is a room most students are unaware of. No classes or tutorials are held there, and clubs cannot book the room for their events. But that isn’t what makes the room important. This room is the home of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union’s (SCSU) one and only food bank. Open from Tuesday to Thursday between 12:00–6:00 pm, it has over 400 active members.

The SCSU offers this service that allows students to get canned goods under the watch of a volunteer. Unfortunately, the old room it was operated out of, 210A, was small and cramped, sharing its space with the SCSU Book Free Network. This led to students remarking that the experience was like walking into a closet and being watched while they got food for themselves.

This changed in an effort to provide students with a more humanizing experience. The food bank is no longer structured in a way where students are in a small space, but is instead set up like a grocery store. This shift involved moving the centre next door to 210B in a space with shelving and the addition of two fridges, allowing for a more open experience. Students fill up their grocery bags, and have points deducted from their cards. Student reception has generally been positive for this new set-up.

The SCSU Food Centre has been a cornerstone for many students and members within the community who depend on its services. According to Rajean Hoilett, Campaigns & Advocacy Coordinator of the SCSU, approximately 40 per cent of those who use the space are international students. The centre has proven very helpful with providing meals to many who have struggled with paying high international fees.

Outside of food supplies, the food bank has held numerous free food-related programming. In the past year, free cooking classes were held for students. In addition, we have also held monthly community breakfasts, having served over 800 meals in between the two community breakfasts we held in October and November alone, according to Hoilett.

The centre itself is not just run by the SCSU, but is a community-driven effort. Within this year, there were over 80 volunteers registered to meet the weekly commitment, with two full-time food centre staff, Lola Wazir and Quiana Cao, aiding in scheduling, training, and marketing the centre to students. In addition to this, their team, headed by Hoilett, has been keeping a record of food withdrawn from the bank to dynamically adjust the types of foods ordered to meet the needs of students in real time.

New initiatives and opportunities have come to benefit the students here at UTSC as a result of the efforts of these hard working individuals, with the centre’s team aiming to improve and expand the gardens on the Graduate Students’ Association at Scarborough’s balcony, and rooftop of the Instructional Centre building.

All in all, the plan to treat food as a human right has been bountiful and strived to bring that right to students. With more funding and food making its way to the food bank, hopes are high on initiatives this funding will bring, going forward. Students are happy that their welfare is being prioritized, and the SCSU is happy we are rising to the occasion to meet their needs.

Rayyan Alibux is a fourth-year Political Science and Business Economics student at UTSC. Alibux serves as Vice-President Operations on the SCSU.