Carleton Students Target Food Insecurity with Community Food Pantry

Carleton architecture students are building a food pantry at 415 MacLaren Street to help address food insecurity in the community. [Photo by Naomi Badour]

A group of architecture students from Carleton University are building a community food pantry to help address food insecurity in Ottawa’s downtown neighborhood.

In May students from the Architecture of Community Care course at Carleton began building the pantry. Menna Agha, who taught the course, supervised the work.

The project, officially called Public Foods, is being built in collaboration with Ottawa Community Housing (OCH), the Centretown Community Health Center and volunteers from the Glebe-St. James United Church.

Agha said working on Public Foods with her students helped them learn how architecture can be used to help the community. The class spent the winter semester designing the pantry, but postponed construction until late spring due to COVID-19, Agha added.

Agha’s construction team held several public access meetings and spoke with neighborhood residents to assess their needs. The pantry will be located at 415 MacLaren Street and will include a refrigerator, pantry shelves for dry goods and a community garden.

Agha cited the pandemic, global recessions and poverty as reasons why Public Foods is more crucial than ever. She said that Ottawa is a food desert where “having a safe meal is not a luxury offered to everyone”.

According to a Statistics Canada survey conducted in May 2020, nearly one in seven Canadians experienced food insecurity during the 30-day study period.

Another survey shows that people are paying more than ever for food due to inflation. According to survey data, Canadians pay an average of 9.7% more for food today than they did a year ago.

Thompson Nguyen, project manager for Public Foods and a recent graduate of Carleton’s Masters of Architecture program, said there was also a need for non-perishable food and items such as diapers and menstrual products in the downtown community.

Joshua Eckert, a second-year Master of Architecture student at Carleton, said “fantasy” regulations– such as the requirement for ID, proof of address and an appointment – ​​are often barriers for those who need food bank services. Eckert has lived downtown for four years.

Eckert said Public Foods takes a different approach to formal food banks by allowing access to goods without requiring documentation or justification. He said anyone in need can use the pantry.

Students in the Architecture of Community Care course at Carleton began building the pantry in May under the supervision of their teacher, Menna Agha. [Photo by Naomi Badour]

The project encountered its share of financial obstacles. After a increase construction costs for non-residential buildings in Canada during the first quarter of 2022, financing was a major concern for the project, according to Nguyen.

The team launched a GoFundMe page to alleviate some financial stress, but is still a long way from reaching his goal of $10,000.

In addition to GoFundMe donations, Ottawa Valley Metal Inc. donated all roofing materials for the pantry, including metal roof panels, Nguyen said.

OCH donated the land, which Nguyen says helped the construction team avoid the otherwise tricky process of acquiring property.

The pantry is almost complete. The team completed exterior construction at the end of June, and OCH volunteers are currently working on the interior and electrical wiring. Volunteers from Glebe St. James United Church will help set up shelving and storage, according to Nguyen.

Agha said Carleton students made Public Foods possible.

“I think our students at Carleton are activists at heart,” said Agha. ” Working at [solving] justice issues is really something they wanted to do.


Featured image by Naomi Badour.

Norma P. Rex