Drastic drop in Foodbank usage

Decline in visits could be due to stigma, new location, manager says

AMS Foodbank Manager Tara Tran thinks the Foodbank’s new location in Macgillivray-Brown Hall may be a factor in the recent decline in visits, but said there isn’t much she can do about the new location.
AMS Foodbank Manager Tara Tran thinks the Foodbank’s new location in Macgillivray-Brown Hall may be a factor in the recent decline in visits, but said there isn’t much she can do about the new location.

“My focus this semester is to determine why usage has dropped,” said Tara Tran, ArtSci ’07 and AMS Foodbank manager.

Foodbank usage dropped significantly this year from more than 1500 visits in 2003 to approximately 50 so far this year.

Tran said broader patterns outside of the Queen’s community may be the answer.

“If there’s a province-wide problem, overall in terms of usage, then maybe I don’t have to be too concerned that it’s unique to Queen’s,” said Tran. “In the meantime I can’t just wait for these results…Until then, I have to assume it’s still a stigma thing here at Queen’s.”

“I’m just assuming that it is a stigma issue and just people being unsure about whether they qualify.”

Tran said she often is questioned about whether a person qualifies.

“I hear a lot of ‘does this mean that I shouldn’t be using the Foodbank because I’m not desperate?’” Tran said, adding that anyone who is having trouble affording healthy food is eligible.

“Nutrition is a big component of that eligibility,” Tran said.

Currently, anyone can use the Foodbank by displaying a valid Queen’s card. No other information is necessary.

Tran also said the recent move from the basement of the Journal house to Macgillivray-Brown Hall because of Queen’s Centre construction may be a factor.

“It seems like if you’re in need of food you can safely assume [food bank users] will seek it out,” Tran said. “I want to meet them half-way and make sure they know it exists.

“It is still an issue, knowing Queen’s students, location is such a key for a lot of services.” Recently, Tran distributed a survey and received almost 600 responses. While the survey doesn’t poll actual Foodbank users it does ask them to put themselves in the position of being a food bank user.

Of the people polled, 27 per cent said they do not know where Macgillivray-Brown Hall is, while 28 per cent said they have never heard of the building.

Tran said that even if the location is a large factor, it isn’t a tangible factor she can target right now. She wants to fix what she can.

“I don’t want it to be a primary factor,” Tran said. “It’s something you can’t control as much so I’m going to target the stigma.” Tran said a rise in the socio-economic status of students overall could be a factor.

“It could be students are better off but I have trouble believing that,” Tran said. “It’s possible and it could be sadly enough because with tuition being deregulated this year, people who couldn’t afford it didn’t even come to Queen’s.”

By the end of this month, the Foodbank aims to have its new Food Locker Program up and running. Students will be able to log onto the Foodbank’s website at www.myams.org/foodbank, choose from available items and receive notice and information that food items have been placed in a locker somewhere on campus.

“It’s meeting them halfway if this location is too far away from campus,” said Tran, adding that locker pick-up can occur without any face to face contact.

Tran said there is a precedent of success for this program at other universities, naming the University of Western Ontario as one.

“Basically our Food Locker Program is something new and it’s been used successfully at other campuses,” she said.

Melissa Martin, university student council’s foodbank coordinator for the University of Western Ontario said the locker program has been successful at the University of Western Ontario, citing several different reasons for its success.

“We have so many lockers on campus that [users] are just like any other student picking up stuff after classes,” Martin said. “Really it’s the anonymity for the students that use it, I’m the only one who will know their names.” Martin said that at Western, Foodbank usage hasn’t declined significantly.

“I don’t have specific statistics but based on the final report of food bank coordinators, if anything there has been more people using the Foodbank because we’re trying to make it more well known.”

Martin said the locker program at her school has been in effect for several years and this year they’re working on a new advertising campaign.

“Advertising I think is key, we’re going through a new programming campaign that we’re developing, we’re trying to change the name to something which has less stigma attached to it,” she said.

Irene Bujara, director of the human rights office, said a large part of the reason why students may be staying away from the Foodbank is because of perception.

“Its an issure of pride of dignity we still live in a society where asking for help is a sign of weakness when actually it’s a sign of strength,” Bujara said. “The perception, the way social messages are transmitted through the media is that it’s a sign of weakness.

“It’s a sad statement that the message that’s out there isn’t always encouraging.” Ian Black, vp (operations) said the Foodbank will most likely not be moving in the near future.

“We don’t really think a change in location will change usage,” Black said. “I think the plan is to stay there until the student centre transition.”

“Consistency and location I think will be advantageous over the next five years.”

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