The Ryerson Students’ Union Good Food Centre (GFC) will not open physically until the campus does, but the union is currently looking at alternative ways to help students in need.
The centre is closed because the union didn’t want it to be the epicentre of a COVID-19 outbreak, RSU vice-president equity Vaishali Vinayak said in an email to the Ryersonian. Traffic at the centre can be busy and difficult to regulate, Vinayak said, creating an unsafe environment for students and staff members.
The Ryerson Students’ Union Good Food Centre (GFC) will not open physically until the campus does, but the union says it’s currently looking at alternative ways to help students in need.
“Before opening the GFC, we hope to perform a risk assessment to see if it is safe and sanitary for students to use our services,” Vinayak said. “As of now, the legislation and regulations are evolving very quickly… Once we have clearer information from the provincial government, our insurers and the related authorities, we will be making a more concrete decision.”
The union is looking to partner with the Daily Bread Food Bank and other food banks on a few new initiatives to help food-insecure students during this time, said Vinayak. She did not offer any further explanation of those new initiatives.
The Ryersonian reached out to the Good Food Centre with requests for comment but did not receive a response by publication time.
The GFC is a campus food bank where students and community members can drop-in and grab food. The centre provides food to thousands of students each year. While no data is available yet for the 2019-2020 academic year, the GFC’s 2018 Hunger Report centre had over 3,000 visits between June 2017 and 2018.
The physical closure of the Centre comes at a time when many post-secondary students in Ontario are stressed financially due to the pandemic. Ontario has the highest number of applicants who applied for the Canada Emergency Student Benefit to date, according to data from the Canada Revenue Agency. The RSU announced in August that it will establish a COVID-19 relief grant and a food relief grant for students who are struggling financially due to the pandemic. The union will allocate $100,000 and $20,000, respectively, and plans to disperse money on a case-by-case basis. However, applications for the grant have yet to be opened.
“We are still working with the university to make this process more fair and easier for the students. Once finalized, we will be updating the students. We plan to open the application in the next coming weeks,” Vinayak said.
The closure of the GFC isn’t expected to impact students who rely on the service because most are back in their home communities, said Cecilia Roch, the director of the Centre for Food Security at Ryerson. The Centre for Food Security is a network of researchers that analyzes food insecurity in order to propose policies to support food security in Toronto and beyond, especially in marginalized communities. Food insecurity is defined as the inadequate or inability to access food due to financial constraints, according to the University of Toronto’s PROOF research centre. Roch, whose research focuses on food insecurity in Brazil, said support and resources need to come from local food banks and organizations where students are located.
“I don’t think that the closing of the Good Food Centre on campus will impact a lot of the students that really need it because they’re not here, they are in their communities,” she said. “Right now the most important thing is to support food security in those communities. Supporting the community groups and the (non-governmental organizations) that are doing the work in communities in Toronto is the most important way of supporting these students in need.”
Roch recommended the RSU create a list of different organizations in different areas of the Greater Toronto Area to guide students in need. She also recommended partnerships with community groups such as Food Share Toronto and the Community Food Centres Canada to provide food for food-insecure students in Toronto.
Roch is concerned, however, about the RSU’s COVID-19 relief and food relief grants. A lot of study and work has to go into the grants for them to work, she said, adding that the RSU needs to define food insecurity, which is a broad term that can be difficult to measure.
“The intentions are excellent, but I am a little concerned about the results, if they’re able to really manage that to the scale that might be needed,” Roch said. “An emergency fund for students might be a very good idea… but food insecurity tends to be chronic, not a one-time thing.”
The RSU’s other equity centres are also closed during the pandemic. The equity service centres provide peer support services and basic necessities for students in need. Equity service centre staff will continue to work remotely and host events for students, Vinayak said, adding that the union is looking to collaborate with student groups, course unions and other Ryerson departments to work on outreach projects.
“This is an unprecedented time for everyone and the last five months have been extremely challenging for all of our students, but it has made us realize the importance of outreach,” she said.