COVID-19 increasing food insecurity among students & Kingston community

“Giving back to our community is a priority right now”: Queen’s Hospitality Services and local organizations providing support

Volunteers from KHealth work with Lionhearts Inc. to distribute meals to families financially affected by COVID-19.
Valera Castanov

A number of local services have adapted their operations to provide the community with greater support as COVID-19 increases food insecurity on Queen’s campus and in the greater Kingston area.

The 2019 National College Health Assessment (NCHA) survey found that, in the 2018-19 academic year, 37 per cent of Queen’s students made deliberate substitutions of lower-cost foods, 6.3 per cent were concerned about running out of food before being financially able to buy more, and 3.4 per cent skipped meals because they could not afford to eat.

To combat the crisis of rising food insecurity during the pandemic, Queen’s Hospitality Services, the Partners in Mission Food Bank, and Lionhearts Inc. have altered their operations to meet the new demand. 

Queen’s Hospitality Services has increased its food donation efforts to help mitigate the financial effects of COVID-19 on local communities, working with local food banks to redirect unused resources. 

Following the suspension of all in-person classes on March 16, Hospitality Services shut down 23 retail locations and two dining halls on campus, leaving one dining hall open for students who remain in residence following the recommended March 22 move-out date.

According to Jennifer Pete, associate director (Housing and Ancillary Services), Queen’s has donated more than $12,000 worth of food to local shelters and food banks since March 20.

“Giving back to our community is a priority right now. This is important work during a time when many people are facing uncertainty,” Pete wrote in a statement to The Journal. “We want to do what we can to help.”

So far, Queen’s has donated to the Partners in Mission Food Bank, the Salvation Army, Martha’s Table, the Kingston Youth Shelter, the Kingston Community Housing Partnership, the In From the Cold Emergency Centre, Interval House, and Lunch by George.

“Since many students have now left campus, we have been able to direct unused food to non-profit organizations that can put it to good use,” Pete added. 

The Swipe it Forward program, which allows students in need to access free meals from the dining halls, remains active, according to Pete. Hospitality Services has also made available the reinstatement of optional meal plans for students who have remained on campus after the expected residence move-out date on March 22 and still require dining services.

In light of COVID-19 preventative measures at Queen’s, the AMS closed its food bank on March 20 and donated $7,000 to the Kingston Partners in Mission Food Bank. For their part, the Partners in Mission Food Bank launched a new program called Friends Feeding Friends in collaboration with the Davies Charitable Foundation and No Frills supermarkets on April 3. The program will provide over $500,000 worth of groceries to Kingston families who have lost income due to COVID-19.

“As this pandemic continues, it places greater pressure on households that are not receiving a pay cheque,” Dan Irwin, executive director of the Partners in Mission Food Bank, wrote in a statement to The Journal. “We have been helping our community since 1984 and will continue to work hard to provide much needed help.”

With the program, employers can apply on behalf of employees experiencing financial distress due to a work disruption or layoffs, who will then receive a link to redeem a $100 No Frills gift card.

“It is great to see our community leaders collaborating to come up with an innovative solution to lessen the COVID-19 impact to our local economy. I hope that this program will help those in need get through a little easier,” Irwin added.

Other community organizations have also been stepping up to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on food insecurity, including Lionhearts Inc., which facilitates the logistics needed for businesses to donate their products to local organizations supporting marginalized populations in Kingston.

When the pandemic reached the community, Lionhearts Inc. started a new program called the COVID-19 Street Project. With mobile command centres set up daily in both McBurney Park and the Weller Ave. Kingston Community Health Centre, the program distributes meals to families who have been financially affected by COVID-19.

“The COVID-19 pandemic forced many of our partner agencies to shut down completely or to dramatically reduce their services,” Travis Blackmore, founder and CEO of Lionhearts Inc., wrote in a statement to The Journal

On average, Lionhearts Inc. has been serving over 200 meals a day at the McBurney Park location alone, according to Blackmore. This location also provides warm clothing, toiletries, fresh socks, and towels, as well as a point of entry for those in need to access other emergency services.

The organization is currently being supported by Kingston’s Community Health Initiative (KHealth), a student-led inter-professional team of medical, nursing, physical therapy, and occupational therapy students through a fundraising page on Facebook. KHealth has raised almost $2,500 for the organization so far.

“We found ourselves in the unique position of having a huge surplus of food, a significant delivery network, a small army of well-trained volunteers, and very close relationships with our partner agencies. We knew we had to act,” Blackmore added.

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