No longer ‘treading water,’ AMS Food Bank goes digital

Service launches Food for Thought campaign after fee increase 

Food bank Manager Stewart Langley.
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For the first time since opening in 1996, the AMS food bank has eliminated a paper trail of patron identities, switching to a digital system and no longer recording student numbers. 

Besides showing the volunteers a valid student card to verify student status, patrons now check a box agreeing to the service’s terms and conditions and leave suggestions for improvement all on a tablet.

Meanwhile, the food bank will also launch the Food for Thought campaign from Nov. 19 to 23, which will include community dinners and awareness projects. It’s part of a broader effort to combat the stigma surrounding food bank use on campus. 

According to current food bank Manager Stewart Langley, ArtSci ’19, these additions foster a more dignified environment for patrons. 

“It didn’t feel right to be asking people for their student numbers and to sign [an agreement],” Langley said. “We didn’t really have a very legitimate reason why we even needed that.”

“Part of our service is trust, and we don’t have to worry about not trusting people,” he added. 

Patrons also have the option of creating a user identification name, which Langley said could be non-identifying.

Food requests now follow an electronic process, which Langley said prevents the service from losing the requests and creates inventory data the food bank can analyze at the end of the year. He noted the new system will be especially beneficial to international students or those who require halal food items.  

Langley said in the past, the bank faced occasional concerns while recording number of visits per week, volume of food taken, or the popularity of certain items. 

“It’s something we’re making a priority,” he said. “I think the only way to decide what we want to do is actually understanding the students who use our service and understanding how effective our service is.”

Funding issues previously complicated the bank’s ability to focus on organization, fresh produce, and student preferences. 

Before the food bank’s student fee increased from $1 to $2 in 2017, Langley told The Journal the service’s funding was “a huge problem.”

“Talking to some patrons who’d been at Queen’s for a long time, it used to be pretty hectic,” he said.

Langley said the food bank would only be open for a few select hours, causing a huge line and shortage of food. “It wasn’t dignified.”

According to Langley, funding is no longer an issue.

“It’s really nice to have that shift in focus, where it’s less on treading water and more on getting students to know about our service and spread awareness about what food insecurity looks like,” he said.

Since the student fee increase, the food bank has been able to transition into a grocery store model, allowing patrons to act as individual shoppers when choosing food. 

Patrons no longer have to take a receipt from the food bank with them like they did in the past, Langley said. 

“You don’t have to bring anything out of the food bank except the food,” he said. “You don’t have to be registered, and I think that makes it more accessible and open, which comes back to having a dignified service.” 

However, despite improvements to the food bank, Langley said the stigma around its use remains. 

“Especially on Queen’s campus, there’s really big stigma that a lot of people come from affluent backgrounds,” he said, adding progress can be challenging when “people don’t think [food insecurity] is something students could go through.”

“They can’t wrap their heads around it, but it’s a very big issue.”

Recalling a taxi driver who criticized him for buying groceries for a food bank at Queen’s, Langley said the Kingston community can sometimes misjudge students’ financial situations.

“People kind of dismiss you. It doesn’t make it harder to do our jobs. It just makes it feel less important,” he said. “But when you go back to the food bank at the end of the day, the work doesn’t feel unimportant.” 

Beth Miller, ArtSci ’20, who began volunteering at the AMS food bank in 2017, also agreed this stigma can be discouraging, but said the importance of the work overshadows any doubts. 

“The people that talk to us say, ‘Now I can feed my kids tonight,’” she told The Journal. “It just makes you feel so good knowing you can help [patrons] and there is someplace they can go to get food,” she said.

“They don’t have to worry about it, there’s a place they can go.” 

The food bank is located in room 343 of the JDUC and is open daily from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

 

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