Skip to main content

Seneca News

Can food stock

 

 

 

“I know a guy who was counting dimes and nickels just to get a burger at McDonald’s at the Peanut Plaza. Not only that, but we’ve had to close the food bank before. We have to turn people away every month because there’d be three weeks of no food.”

Dec. 20, 2018

 

The room is tucked behind the kitchen and storage area inside SeneCentre, adjacent to the Seneca Student Federation (SSF) office at Newnham Campus. From the outside, the door has a single key hole, no handle, and it’s locked unless otherwise requested.

For about 100 to 150 students at Newnham, getting through that door and into that room is a reality every month.

“They know when the shipment arrives at the food bank. They line up the next day and the shelves are empty in about a week,” said Ammar Atheem, Manager, Campus Operations, Seneca Student Federation.

The SSF Food Bank, which partners with the North York Harvest Food Bank, is a confidential service offered at Seneca’s four main campuses to help students who might otherwise skip a meal or give up on food in order to pay rent. Prior to 2005, when the food bank started on campus, the space had been part of an old DJ room/radio station.

“We had tons of vinyl when we were cleaning out the space,” Atheem recalled. “We had a huge garage sale in the courtyard and we used the money to buy supplies — table, shelving, food.”

Two years ago, Atheem was able to purchase a fridge, which has since allowed them to accept donations such as bread and chicken.

“They go quickly,” he said. “Every time we load the fridge with bread, they’re gone the next day.”

Veronica and Ammar stocking can food

Veronica Otoya, a student in the Honours Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies degree program, stocks the shelf alongside Ammar Atheem, Manager, Campus Operations, Seneca Student Federation.

Delivery to the SSF Food Bank takes place the first Monday of every month. Its users on campus are both male and female students, 18 to 25 years old, studying full time. Most of them, Atheem said, are in dire situations.

“They tell us, ‘We don’t have money to survive,’” he said. “Many sleep maximum four to five hours a day because they are working in factories or at Seneca while attending classes. Some of them have borrowed money to come here and they are working their butts off just to make ends meet. The reality is, food is often sacrificed because if you don’t pay rent, you are out on the street.”

Students needing access to the SSF Food Bank are required to fill out a form, go through an interview process and answer questions about household size, income and expenses. Once they have a membership card, they are limited to coming to the food bank once a month. They are also limited to the number of items they can take from the shelves. Each visit will supply a person with enough food to last two or three days.

“They need way more,” Atheem said.

SSF Food Bank stock

The SSF Food Bank receives a delivery once a month. The shelves are often empty after the first week.

Michelle Alexis Villarama works as Atheem’s assistant at the SSF. A two-time Seneca grad who’s now enrolled in the Honours Bachelor of Commerce – International Accounting & Finance degree program, she has witnessed first-hand the hardship some students go through.

“I know a guy who was counting dimes and nickels just to get a burger at McDonald’s at the Peanut Plaza,” she said. “Not only that, but we’ve had to close the food bank before. We have to turn people away every month because there’d be three weeks of no food.”

Villarama said the SSF is doing its best to help students by providing free food at many campus events. It also offers a free breakfast program for those in need.

“It’s usually cereal, but we get a lot of students and we have to replenish it every half an hour,” she said.

Even though Villarama has worked at the SSF on and off since 2012, it hasn’t gotten easier when turning someone away at the door.

“There’s always a look of disappointment on their faces when they are told it’s just once a month,” she said.

Angela Donciu and Vickie McInnis met more than 10 years ago when they shared an office at Seneca. The two long-time Seneca Business professors have since become lifelong friends. Even after McInnis left Seneca in 2017, the pair has continued to team up regularly and donate bread to the SSF Food Bank throughout the year.

Professor McInnis and Donciu holding loaves of bread

Professors Vickie McInnis (left) and Angela Donciu have been bringing bread to the SSF Food Bank for a few years. (Submitted photo)

“It’s an amazing thing to help the students,” she said. “I just wish we had more bread.”

The delivery started a few years ago when McInnis, a long-time volunteer with the Aurora Food Pantry, was tasked with figuring out what to do with an extra shipment of donation from Cobs Bread’s End of Day Giving program. Because the Aurora Food Pantry is closed the fifth week of the month, which occurs three or four times a year, the bread from Cobs from that week is redirected to another organization in need.

“We thought, ‘Why not Seneca?’” said McInnis, who has in the past helped her students locate another food bank near Newnham Campus.

While McInnis would pick up the bread from Cobs in Aurora and bag them, Donciu would pick up the bagged bread from McInnis and deliver the shipment to the SSF Food Bank. Each shipment contains about 300 loaves of bread.

“There’s no judgment,” McInnis said. “We all know how expensive it is to live in the GTA. Some students either have no extra money to buy food or they rely on inexpensive or unhealthy food to get by.”

For Donciu, the opportunity to make a difference in somebody’s life, both in and out of the classroom, is why she loves teaching at Seneca.

“It’s an amazing thing to help the students,” she said. “I just wish we had more bread.”

SSF Food Bank

(Submitted photos)

The SSF Food Bank welcomes donations from members of the Seneca community.

Recently, the Seneca Sting (top left) delivered boxes of food to the food bank after 14 varsity teams across campuses contributed to their annual food drive, with each team filling a bin or more before donating.

Likewise, students, faculty and employees in the Veterinary Technician and the Veterinary Assistant programs competed in a holiday food drive at King Campus. The drive raised more than 600 items for the SSF Food Bank and LOFT Community Services in York Region.

If you would like to donate to the SSF Food Bank, email Ammar Atheem.