The Stratford Resource Bins started, as so many exciting things do, over coffee with Karin at Balzac’s. It was a warm September day when I pitched my idea to her and a week later, Kat Durmanonva and I were loading up carts at Walmart with cans of beans, bags of pasta, and boxes of instant oatmeal.
The initial set-up was two large Rubbermaid bins: one stocked with food and the other with household supplies such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, and menstrual products. Our method is “take what you need, leave what you can” to encourage a certain amount of self-sustainability, as well as to eliminate the need for students to have to self-identify as needing support.
Honestly, I didn’t think it’d work. I thought after the first week or so somebody would walk out with the bins and all that time and money (and hope!) would go with it. I was optimistic but realistic at the same time: the bins were built entirely on the honour system, hoping that those who would need the resources would find them. That’s not exactly a winning business model.
But eventually, we passed the one-month point and observed a 24% usage rate between the two bins (20% from the food bin and 27% from the household supplies bin). Now, five months later, we’ve expanded to have eight bins on campus, providing menstrual products in all the washrooms; snacks in the second and third-floor kitchenettes; and the original two bins in the 1B stairwell (plus one for reusable bags for students to be able to discreetly transport their groceries). There’s a corner in my room devoted to holding all the extra donations in big bags almost overflowing with proof of people’s generosity.
Our goal with starting this initiative was to help our students first and foremost. As more people move out to Stratford, we no longer have easy access to resources that students have access to on the main campus, such as the Feds food bank. Research shows that as many as four in 10 university students suffers from food insecurity, in part because of the rising cost of tuition, disproportionately affecting Indigenous and international students. Further, one in three Canadian women under 25 have reported struggling to afford menstrual products, and over 70% have reported withdrawing from activities or missing school because of their period. And, somewhat unsurprisingly, researchers at the University of Manitoba found that 48.5% of those who were considered food insecure self-identified as having “poor-fair” mental health, and 53.9% self-identified as having “poor-fair” physical health. All this to say that food insecurity and what experts call “period poverty” are issues that impact a student’s ability to succeed in the already-intense university environment.
Additionally, I wanted to prove to the students at the Stratford school that we can create things uniquely for ourselves. We can look out for each other and create meaningful change, even as 600 students in a red-brick building in downtown Stratford.
If you’d like to help, there are a few different ways: firstly, donate! Anything we don’t use by April will be donated back to one of the food banks in the community. If you find yourself Marie Kondo-ing your pantry and have unopened, nonperishable goods, we’d love it if you put it in one of the bins marked with a Resource Bins sticker. However, there are other ways to help too! We have an anonymous Google form which helps us to serve the student better by identifying what we need to stock, as well as providing an ongoing case to campus administration that what we’re doing works. If you’d like to help with the organizational side, talk to me, but above all else, please keep using the bins. We have nothing without your support.
Thank you to everyone who made this happen: to Karin, for your initial support and to help get the idea off the ground. To Kat, who waited while I tallied up everything in a spreadsheet in the middle of a Walmart aisle to make sure we weren’t over budget. To Katrina and Amirah, for our Friday morning, Stratford-Waterloo-Norway calls. To Greg, for the killer logo and for helping in any strange way I ask. To anyone who’s donated, during the donation drive or otherwise. It takes a village to feed a village and I couldn’t have gotten this going without your support. 🤗
Kiera McMaster, GBDA '20
My name’s Kiera, and I’m a third year GBDA student. I’m a little more global business than digital arts, and I love finding ways to apply what we learn in class to making the world a better place. Plant mom, cookbook aficionado, owns orange everything.