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Lakehead's revamped food centre responds to student hunger

The Lakehead University Student Union has unveiled a new Food Resource Centre, a reimagined food bank that will also offer kitchen and lounge space.

THUNDER BAY – Lakehead University’s student food bank has undergone a major makeover, a transformation student leaders hope will help address hunger on campus.

The new Food Resource Centre operated by the Lakehead University Student Union (LUSU), located up the stairs from The Study Coffeehouse, offers kitchen and lounge space along with access to food aid.

The food bank was previously a cramped room tucked down a hallway in the university’s tunnel system.

Student leaders say moving it to a brightly lit, larger, and more prominent space is partly about ending the stigma associated with using a food bank.

“We worked to renovate it to feel like you’re walking into your own house,” said Sierra Garofalo, Food Resource Centre coordinator.

“We want to have students coming in for whatever reason they feel necessary, whether that’s for a cooking class, a meal prep class, just coming in to access food, hanging out eating lunch, different educational workshops.”

The food bank has traditionally supported hundreds of Lakehead students in meeting their food needs, and LUSU provided weekly food hampers while it was closed during COVID-19.

Garofalo said it’s all too common for students to need assistance, with groups including international students, single parents, and students who rely on government assistance particularly vulnerable.

High tuition fees, particularly for international students, play a big role, student leaders said.

Renovating the space for the food centre cost around $65,000, with the student union paying $58,000 and the university’s alumni association contributing $7,000. Vince Mirabelli helped stock the shelves for the opening on Monday.

In addition to room for workshops and other events, the new location offers plenty of storage, with several fridges and freezers, allowing the centre to accept more perishable food donations beginning in the fall.

It’s a major evolution from where things stood when Adrian Arts worked with the LUSU food bank a decade ago. During his tenure as food bank coordinator from 2012 to 2015, he said he saw disturbing levels of hunger among the student population. 

Arts, who now lives in B.C., travelled back to Thunder Bay to see the unveiling of the new food centre Monday.

“It’s really exciting for me to come here, see the new space, see the new vision, which is what we were always hoping to [see happen],” he said.

“When I first started, the food bank coordinator was a 10 hour-a-week position, mostly supported by volunteers and community donations. The budget was almost nothing. We were open one day a week – food hampers were available once a month.”

Now, the food resource centre is open four days a week even during the summer and has expanded staffing hours.

Arts said it’s crucial the centre will serve as more than a place to get emergency food supplies, offering social space and opportunities to build food skills.

“People need to get the food, so we need the soup and the packaged goods,” he said. “But the idea of a food resource hub is to talk about the inherent issues that are causing the food insecurity to begin with, and not just putting a band aid over [it].”

It’s the kind of approach he said we could also use more of off campus.

“I think the seed of change is often grown in a university,” he said. “So something like this I think can help drive that change in perspective.”

For more information on the Food Resource Centre or to donate, email frc@lusu.ca.

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