A dozen or so student volunteers and staffers whirl around a small room on the basement floor of Toronto Metropolitan University’s student centre. Three bag bread on a metal table. Two are on their knees, stacking cans of soup on wire shelves and filling green bins with sweet potatoes. Nearby, see-through refrigerator doors showcase neat stacks of eggs and milk.
It’s a Wednesday afternoon, which means TMU’s Good Food Centre (GFC) is buzzing at its busiest time of the week. Once the student-run food bank — a Daily Bread member agency — receives its weekly delivery from us, volunteers, two student staff members and a full-time coordinator stock shelves as quickly as possible before opening the GFC doors. The centre operates on a first-come, first-served basis, so most regulars know to come on Wednesdays (although the centre is open three days a week) to access the largest variety of food. The GFC now services about 150-200 individuals every week, and the number is growing.
“Food insecurity is on the rise due to increases in rent and school fees,” said Lauren Barch, a student operational lead at the GFC. “You have to pay for rent, you have to pay your school fees. But because you can control how much you are spending on food, if you have to cut something, food is the first to go.”
Lauren added that the pandemic caused many students to lose their jobs, exacerbating the problem. COVID forced the GFC to close its doors (along with the rest of campus) in 2020. But even during that time, the team still helped students realize their right to food by providing $25 grocery gift cards and free delivery through a partnership with Gocart.city.
The three-person team hasn’t stopped since reopening last fall. Along with about 30 regular volunteers, they serve clients weekly, stock shelves and deep-clean the facilities. At the same time, they educate students about food insecurity and nutrition on a budget through social media and volunteer presentations. Ultimately, their goal is to provide access to food for all students and TMU community members who come through their doors.
“At the end of the day, it’s like ‘wow, we did that, we served so many students, we were able to help so many students,’” said Tasneem Rashid, another GFC student operational lead. “It’s a good feeling. It’s not a good thing that so many need to use our services, but that we’re able to help them — that’s a good feeling.”