The Food Centre, run by the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union, has a big role to play on campus, providing services for students, but the responsibilities fall on few shoulders. There are approximately 10 volunteers each week at the Food Centre, leaving them short-staffed.
This shortage results in early closures of the Fresh Market, which is detrimental to its regular users. With half-hour shifts and minimal tasks, students should consider giving their time to this cause. Fighting food insecurity is no small task, and with a lack of volunteers at the Food Centre, it is an uphill battle that requires a call for student commitment and compassion.
There are three main programs that the Food Centre offers: the Emergency Food Hampers, which are operated in conjunction with the Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre, the CHEP Good Food Box program and the Fresh Market.
Despite the range of programs, volunteers are needed solely for the Fresh Market. Volunteer duties include setting up the booth in Upper Place Riel, selling items and taking the market down. Being a volunteer goes on students’ co-curricular records, so offering your time for the centre can be recorded on a student’s résumé.
The Food Centre runs the Fresh Market four days a week. Volunteers are needed to cover half-hour shifts with a maximum of two volunteers per shift during the opening hours.
Although there are 68 people on the contact list for volunteers, only approximately 10 volunteers sign up for shifts from week to week. Jillian Rogers, the Food Centre co-ordinator and a third- year health studies student, talks about the need for more helping hands.
“Since I’ve been co-ordinator, there has yet to be a week where every single slot is filled. There is usually one or two days per week where it is more difficult to find someone to cover the market,” Rogers said in an email to the Sheaf.
Time is a significant factor taken into consideration when volunteering. Navigating schedules around classes, labs, jobs and other responsibilities can be a difficult and stressful factor for students, but the Food Centre is understanding of students’ other commitments.
“It’s incredibly flexible. Each Monday, I send out a Doodle Poll, so the volunteers can sign up for shifts for the following weeks. Shifts are broken down into half-hour intervals,” Rogers said.
In some instances, the lack of volunteers leaves the Food Centre with no other choice but to close the Fresh Market early. Rogers speaks to the impact the closure has on those that rely on the Fresh Market.
“It is also frustrating for staff, students and visitors who utilize the market on a regular basis. We say we’re open Tuesdays to Fridays from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but sometimes, this isn’t the case, and customers get upset,” Rogers said.
Investment in the community should be incentive enough to volunteer, with the reach of impact being immeasurable in worth. Giving half an hour is a simple task often viewed as a difficult one. Whether volunteers give half an hour once a week, once every two weeks or once a month, it is an investment in the community that combats food insecurity.
The lack of volunteers at the Food Centre could speak to the significant disconnect of students who use its services and those who do not. It is time to come together to support a service that is vital to feeding members of the University of Saskatchewan community.
To become a volunteer, students can locate the USSU Volunteer Application form at www.ussu.ca/main-page/centres/become-a-volunteer/.
Graphic: Cree Longjohn