One in 14 households in the Waterloo region are currently struggling to put food on the table; a staggering high from last year when the average was one in 20 households. 31,433 individuals and 15,312 households — these are the most recent statistics for hunger in Waterloo provided by the Food Bank of the city for the period of April to June 2023.
Why should you care about food insecurity when it doesn’t affect you? One might ponder this while setting aside this magazine. Put simply, having food on the table is now no longer a basic necessity, but a privilege.
WUSA Food Service Support (FSS)
With the rising cost of living, it’s becoming more challenging for the average household to put food on the table, which is what the WUSA Food Support Service (FSS) aims to tackle. They are an anonymous, non-profit, student-run service that provides food and hygiene hampers which can be customized to dietary restrictions.
When asked about the inspiration behind the service and how it has evolved with time, “When we were founded as the Feds Student Food Bank, we saw as an organisation that there was a need for greater support and recognition of the way that students face food insecurity on campus,” said Chaya Mamer, one of the service coordinators.
Mamer said that their service has grown to be primarily donations-based and operates on a capacity that grows every term. “Within this growth, we have been able to service our community’s diverse dietary requirements and provide more compassionate care to the community by providing food that is desired and culturally specific,” she said.
Recent trends and statistics
Even though the FSS runs 24/7 throughout the year, the need for it is still as pressing as ever. With housing costs, economic burdens and financial stress rising, many individuals in the university community are struggling to keep up with the basic cost of living. Kristen Jarman, research executive at FSS, spoke on the recent activity trends at the FSS, stating that the food bank gets busier around tuition due dates and holiday seasons.
“These are both times in academics when we are near midterms, finals, or big projects, so accumulating financial stress and academic stress together causes the rise in service use. This being said, certain peaks and drops can be because of many factors, not necessarily correlating to academic dates,” she said.
Raising awareness on campus
Even though the FSS is an anonymous service, it maintains an active social media presence to convey the crisis regarding food insecurity and what they’re doing to help the Waterloo community. In recent terms the service has been more active than ever before, running events and campaigns to raise awareness, encourage donations, and connect with students and volunteers. Simran Mukkar, another FSS coordinator, explained that “[their] advocacy efforts include community engagement to shed light on hunger and food insecurity issues. [They] run various campaigns on [their] Instagram page @wusafoodsupport in an effort to reduce the stigma around seeking help from the food bank and encourage students to access [their] services when needed.”
The FSS is also committed to connect with other establishments such as Campus Wellness to work on addressing the psychological stress of food insecurity and how to best tackle it. “As a service, we also work with larger partners on campus … to strategise what we can do to ensure we are supporting students, staff, and faculty in meeting their basic needs,” Mamer said.
Who’s helping the FSS?
The majority of the FSS’s support comes from the Waterloo Food Bank. “We heavily rely on the food bank of Waterloo Region as a source of food donations. They are our main partners and greatest support, as they provide the majority of our food donations and help keep our stock afloat,” Jarman said.
However, the FSS also collaborates with the university colleges and satellite campuses. According to Mukkar, the FSS provides the university colleges and the Stratford satellite campus with non-perishable food items that cannot be used in their hampers to prevent food waste. The FSS also provides satellite campuses with hampers to “make [their] service more accessible to all students and faculty.” The FSS has serviced the satellite campuses in the past by providing them with food items that are past their best before date.
“As per Food Banks Canada and food safety standards, “many foods that have best before dates can be shared past the date if they have been stored properly. Foods that are low in moisture and/or low in fats and oils will keep longer after the labelled date than others. A few foods can be shared a year or more past the best before date. These include rice, dry pasta and honey.” We cannot include these food items in our hampers, as many of our users are not aware that best before dates differ from expiry dates. We do our best to accommodate the needs of our users hence our inability to include these items. There is a complete transparency with our satellite campuses and when we work with them, they are always more than happy to receive them,” Mukkar said.
The FSS is also committed to connecting individuals with the necessary establishment in the situation where they are unable to provide the most suitable or complete support. With their existing channel of connections they are able to recommend places in the community that can provide more appropriate help.
“With the current economic situation, nobody in our community should feel that they have nowhere to turn to, and they can always access one of our recommended connections in
the community if we cannot provide them with enough support,” Mamer said. “At FSS, we will always fight for the diverse group of students, staff, and faculty that we service, and we will always evolve our service to change as our community change[s].”
What’s the future looking like for the FSS?
They currently have one location, the Turnkey Desk at the Student Life Centre, from which students can pick up the food hampers. The FSS is working on expanding to service the student population on a larger scale. Marcella Gravensade, the FSS office executive, said that they are “working on implementing lockers on campus where people will be able to pick-up hampers. This will help increase access to [their] service as all hampers are currently available at the one location at the Turnkey Desk.”
The FSS also has an event coming up in November, Stock the Bank, where they hope to acquire support from various faculties, clubs, societies, and individuals. Mamer described it as “where faculties, departments, and groups on campus will compete to raise the most points in an effort to raise awareness and fight the effects of food insecurity on campus.”
This event aims to promote a strong sense of community and allow individuals to partake in an activity to help their community.
Beyond new locations and events, the FSS is also working on new forms of data analysis in order to better understand the target market for their services. “We are always interested in expanding the services provided by the food bank. Once we figure that out, we can develop the best way to expand our services to reach that community,” Jarman said. “We have also hired a new communications executive who will be able to help us contact a larger audience which in turn will be able to provide us with the base for a new initiative.”
Messages from FSS Volunteers and Executives
“I’d like to encourage everyone to take a second and consider how often we or people
around us may be impacted by food insecurity. It could be as simple as not buying a
particular grocery item due to price or as far as not being able to afford food at all.
There is no stigma or shame behind this, food is essential.” – Kristen Jarman, research executive at FSS
For more information on the WUSA Food Support Service visit their website at fss.wusa.ca or their instagram, @wusafoodsupport.