Food for thought: insecurity at Queen’s

Food insecurity needs to be combatted at Queen’s

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Insecurity is a form of anxiety and lack of confidence that most people suffer from at one time or another. While everyone experiences it differently and at different times, it’s familiar.

Food insecurity, however, is less familiar and far more difficult to cope with.

The Student Experience

“I’m thankful, but at the same times it’s frustrating when you've worked six days in a row and just want a day off … but need to pay the bills.”

Kelly Roberts-Dodd is currently completing her sixth year at Queen’s, having spread out her time due to personal and financial reasons.

To get by, Roberts-Dodd typically works multiple jobs. She’s built cars at a Honda factory, picked up garbage, raked lawns and laid concrete, along with multiple serving jobs at bars and cafes. Even with all of these jobs, Roberts-Dodd never felt it was enough.  She always felt financially insecure.

With the reputation for affluence that Queen’s possesses Roberts-Dodd hasn’t always found “fitting in” to be easy.

“I tried really hard in first and second year to keep up with everyone and I ended up just putting myself into more debt,” Roberts-Dodd, ArtSci ’17, began.

“After that I just said screw it, and just did what I could. Thankfully, I have really good friends who totally understand that. They invite me to come over and just drink boxed wine instead of the $50 bottle that they’d want to buy at Atomica instead.”

Roberts-Dodd stopped working at a coffee shop just before Christmas and so was struggling to buy groceries leading up to break. This is the first semester she’s only working one job and is supplementing it with grocery gift cards she received over the holidays. She’s also being paid to participate in tests for the Psychology department.

The Arts and Science student receives OSAP, but said she doesn't feel it’s enough if you want to maintain a life outside of paying your bills.

“I guess it’s just that everyone has a story and just because we’re here doesn't mean we have the same one.”

While she hasn't received any scholarships she’s applied for, she has been surprised to find her SOLUS account supplemented with family sponsored scholarships on two separate occasions and without notice and has received one grant.

Notwithstanding all of her financial struggles, Roberts-Dodd would argue that she has a higher quality of life than a lot of people.  Having worked hard for everything she has, she is not entitled but said she often finds herself the target of judgment and stigma surrounding her financial situation.

“Sometimes people will see me in the Starbucks line and they'll acknowledge that I complain about having no money but then I buy Starbucks. But see, I also know that I don't have time to make coffee … coffee is expensive and for all they know I have gift cards from last thanksgiving that I’m still using to buy coffee,” she said.

“It’s one of those things that, unless you actually sit and talk to someone you don’t really know where they're at.”

While Roberts-Dodd doesn't use the food bank personally, she has donated to it on several occasions because she knows there are always people worse off than herself.

“I guess it’s just that everyone has a story and just because we’re here doesn't mean we have the same one.”

The Road to Change

A November 2016 study conducted across five Canadian universities found that 39 per cent of Canadian university students are food insecure.

Meal Exchange, the national charity that released the report surveyed 4,500 students from these schools over the course of 16 months in the hopes of spearheading new research.

Queen’s hopes to get involved with this study and is currently working with them to launch a similar survey on campus for a more holistic view of food insecurity, Cole Smith, manager of the AMS Food Bank. 

Presently, the AMS Food Bank is attempting to determine the proportion of undergraduate to graduate students using their service.

The current practice of the Food Bank encourages anonymity; their sign in list doesn’t have times or dates, just requiring students to sign in with a student number on their first visit.

Up until around December, the rough proportion of students under the Society of Graduate Professional Students membership was 12 per cent compared to about 88 per cent of the undergraduate population, Smith said.

The food bank at Queen’s is now in its 20th year of running, but it collects little information about itself.

When Western’s food bank opened in 1996, many people at Queen’s were surprised, Smith says.  

“A lot of students looked at Western and Queen’s as being representative of a very similar socio-economic class. The news of Western having opened a food bank was surprising to students who felt that there weren’t any students at Queen’s that had financial barriers or experienced poverty or food insecurity. Those concepts were very foreign.”

The first 1996-97 food bank executives at Queen’s established a $1-dollar fee to support opening the service, which lasted up until this semester when a $2-dollar fee was passed by referendum.

This year, the Food Bank extended their hours from three hours a week to 21 hours based upon the increased demand, and relocated to larger premises at the JDUC from MacGillivray-Brown Hall. They’ve also extended the service to post-doctoral fellows.

“I don’t think that’s long term solution,” Smith said of the inclusion of post-docs to the service. “They’re an indicator of the larger problem. Food banks are the safety net, the last resort of ‘I’m in a position where I have to choose between going to class or taking on extra shifts at work’ or ‘not paying my rent this month and buying food.’”

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