Alumni Association pledges support to combat student food insecurity

Students practise their chopping skills at a cooking workshop.
Students practice their chopping skills at a cooking workshop.
With education recognized as a pathway to opportunity, it’s disheartening that many students face barriers to basic access to nutritious food.

The University of Ottawa’s Alumni Association has taken action to address this issue by pledging funds to support initiatives aimed at tackling food insecurity on campus.
Rana Daoud
Rana Daoud (BSocSci ’09), registered dietician and director of DRRD Nutrition, discusses how to read labels with students at a workshop this past March, National Nutrition Month)

According to the 2021 National Student Food Insecurity Report released by Meal Exchange, over 56% of postsecondary students in Canada grapple with food insecurity. Among them, a significant number struggle to afford balanced or nutritious meals, resorting to skipping meals due to financial constraints. This crisis disproportionately affects marginalized groups, including international and racialized students, as well as members of the LGBTQ2S+ community and students living away from home. 

This concern was brought forward at the last Alumni Association annual general meeting by Reverend Michael Garner, a member of the multifaith chaplain’s office on campus. He saw that many students he spoke with were struggling with hunger and food security and noted it was difficult to provide spiritual guidance when these essential needs weren’t being met. Recognizing the urgency of this issue, the Alumni Association is helping fund a multi-pronged approach to supporting students facing food insecurity, in conjunction with partners such as the multifaith chaplain’s office, the University of Ottawa Students Union, the Graduate Students Association, Food Services and the Office of Campus Sustainability. 

This approach includes funding workshops that teach essential cooking skills and provide students with tools to make nutritious food choices, offering community meals at Friel residence that provide a sense of community, as well as sustenance, and funding existing food pantry services, to provide snacks during exam season and stock community fridges.  

The Alumni Association aims to not only address immediate food needs but also foster a supportive and inclusive campus environment.

Food on table
Fresh vegetables and provisions for basic, but nutritious recipes

Alumni Association President Josephine Palumbo (BSocSc ’88, JD ’91) says that these initiatives also aim to increase awareness and destigmatize the use of food assistance services. 

“By shedding light on the prevalence of food insecurity and normalizing help-seeking behaviours,” Palumbo says, “the Alumni Association hopes to create a campus culture where students feel supported and empowered to seek assistance when needed. We want to support our students and ensure their focus is on their studies and not where their next meal will come from.” 

The association’s actions have been noted by students. At a recent community meal — burrito night! —  Sarah, a first-year health sciences student, said she appreciated the gesture, beyond the perk of a free meal.

“Honestly, any free food in this economy is a blessing!” Sarah says. “But it’s just so nice to get that extra time to study. I know dinner is taken care of, and it’s one less worry on my mind during midterms.”

“It’s also fun to get to eat with other people,” says Jacob, a second-year student. “It makes residence feel more like a home.”

By equipping students with skills through workshops, the hope is that they’ll gain confidence in cooking, meal planning and affordable grocery shopping. Some may even develop a love of cuisine! 

In supporting these initiatives, the University of Ottawa Alumni Association is showing its commitment to the well-being of current students and the cultivation of a positive, inclusive campus community.