Dalhousie University and the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) have joined forces to help students struggling to keep food on the table amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
In December 2020, Dal and the DSU collaborated to raise funds for the DSU’s student-led food security initiatives: the Loaded Ladle, the DSU Farmer’s Market, the DSU Food Bank and the DSU Sustainability Office. Together, they raised more than $70,000.
Led by Dalhousie, the money was raised through a province-wide fundraising drive called the Food Security Project. The fundraiser was initiated after Giving Tuesday, a global day for donating and volunteering on Dec. 1, 2020, which was started by a group of Canadian organizations.
A large portion of the funds the DSU and Dal raised will go toward supporting the DSU Food Bank.
The pandemic’s effect on the food bank
COVID-19 has increased food insecurity issues across the country. A recent survey conducted by Statistics Canada exploring the impacts of COVID-19 on food insecurity and mental health revealed about one in seven Canadians were in a food-insecure household in the month of May 2020.
This issue of food insecurity has been reflected in the Dal community, according to Isa Wright, the DSU’s vice-president (finance and operations). Currently, the DSU Food Bank is the most in-demand DSU student service, Wright said. The food bank provides an essential service to students who may suffer from food insecurity issues for various reasons such as unexpected reduction of income, student loan delays or unanticipated living expenses.
The demand for food support this academic year has increased among international students, according to Wright.
“A lot of international students were stuck here without really any support, especially if their families were locked down elsewhere,” Wright said. “They got very little support from the government and so a lot of them ended up using the food bank.”
The DSU Food Bank is largely supported through Feed Nova Scotia, a subsidiary of Food Banks Canada, and via donations made by Dalhousie faculty and staff. The DSU Food Bank is non-levied, which means Dal students do not pay for the service through their student fees. Therefore, the food bank’s access to funds is low and those engaged with the initiative are primarily volunteers.
How the funds will help
Micha Davies-Cole, the manager of the DSU Food Bank, said the recent fundraiser has given the food bank “more stability.”
“It gave us the ability to try reaching more people with food than we could before,” said Davies-Cole.
Prior to 2021, the DSU Food Bank primarily relied on volunteer staffing, with Davies-Cole as the one paid part-time manager. Due to the increased use of the food bank during the pandemic, the DSU found it needed more support. As a result, part of the new funds will be used to create two new part-time staff positions and to increase Davies-Cole’s hours.
“I was working well over 40 hours per week. It turned into meetings and discussions. . . a lot of phone calls, a lot of trying to balance finding bodies to help when everybody was in isolation,” Davies-Cole said. “I went from needing one to two people in for a couple of hours per shift to having a workforce of about eight to 10 for those same hours per shift.”
The DSU hopes the creation of new part-time positions will help alleviate some of the pressure on volunteer staff.
According to Wright, more funding raised through the Food Security Project will become available to the food bank soon to ensure it can continue operations effectively.
How the money was raised
In response to the magnitude of students needing support on food security issues, the DSU’s executive team decided to explore a partnership with Dalhousie to raise funds on Giving Tuesday.
According to Wright, the executive took insights from discussions with Davies-Cole and used them to provide context to Dalhousie, illustrating the severity of food insecurity issues facing students.
Wright said Dalhousie did a lot of legwork for getting the word out about the need for funds. Notably, Dal helped to secure the support of the J and W Murphy Foundation, a private Halifax-based charitable organization supporting the Halifax community. The foundation agreed to match donations up to $20,000 in support of DSU’s food security initiatives, according to a Dal press release. Overall, the foundation supported nine Nova Scotian universities on Giving Tuesday to raise funds for food insecurity.
Dal also kicked off the fundraising by providing a $1,000 opening gift. The remainder of the funds were raised through a projectDAL crowdfunding campaign.
The food bank continues to adapt
This winter, COVID-19 continues to pose obstacles for the DSU Food Bank.
“The irony with COVID is that because everything is so fluid, you kind of have to come up with a new way to game plan sometimes every day you’re in there,” said Davies-Cole.
One new protocol employed by the food bank is to have students register to pick up their food ahead of time. It’s an effort to avoid long lineups, which make social distancing difficult. Students can register to pick up a box on the food bank’s website: www.dsu.ca/foodbank.
Davies-Cole said enhanced communication is essential and encourages those needing access to food bank services to reach out if they have questions.
The DSU executive team plans to continue to work closely with Davies-Cole to ensure the appropriate support is there for the DSU Food Bank.
Wright said building a collaborative relationship with the food bank and Davies-Cole has been helpful for developing long-term strategies to support the DSU Food Bank operations, both during and beyond the pandemic.
“I think that relationship has been helpful for understanding how the food bank works and has really helped us from a planning perspective create more of a partnership with the volunteers and the food bank manager who are the ones actually providing the service to students,” Wright said. “I’m grateful for that because I think we now have a longer-term plan for sustaining the food bank and making sure that beyond the pandemic we can be offering this support for students.”
Correction note: This article originally stated part of the funds raised by Dalhousie and the DSU for the Food Security Project went to the Food Pantry at Dal’s agricultural campus (Dal AC) in Truro, N.S. In fact, the Food Pantry (also known as the Food Cupboard) did not benefit from the fundraiser. It is supported by the Colchester Food Bank, the Student Success staff at Dal AC and other staff members at Dal AC. The Gazette has updated the article and apologizes for the error.