Carleton students target food insecurity with community stock

Carleton Architecture students build a pantry at 415 MacLaren Street to address community food insecurity. [Photo by Naomi Badour]

A group of architecture students at Carleton University build a community kitchen to address food insecurity in Ottawa’s Centretown neighborhood.

In Be able to students from the Architecture of Community Care program in Carleton started building the pantry. Menna Agha, who taught the course, supervised the work.

The project, officially named Public Foods, is being built in conjunction with Ottawa Community Housing (OCH), Centertown 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 meetings and spoke with local residents to assess their needs. The utility room will be located at 415 MacLaren Street and will contain a refrigerator, dry goods larder and a communal garden.

Agha cited the pandemic, global recessions and poverty as reasons why Public Foods is now more important than ever. She said Ottawa was a… food desert where “having a safe meal is not a luxury for everyone.”

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

Another survey shows that people are paying more for food than ever because of inflation. Canadians now pay an average of 9.7 percent more for food than a year ago, according to the survey’s data.

Thompson Nguyen, Public Foods project manager and recent graduate of Carleton’s Master of Architecture program, said there is also a need for shelf-stable foods and items such as diapers and menstrual products in the Centretown community.

Joshua Eckert, a second-year architecture master’s student at Carleton said “fancy” regulations-such as ID requirement, proof of address, and an appointment – are often barriers for those who need food bank services. Eckert has lived in Centertown for four years.

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

Students from the Architecture of Community Care degree program in Carleton began construction on the pantry in May under the supervision of their professor, Menna Agha. [Photo by Naomi Badour]

The project experienced its share of financial barriers. after a increase in construction costs for non-residential buildings in Canada in the first quarter of 2022, funding was a major concern for the project, according to Nguyen.

The team started a GoFundMe Page to relieve some financial stress, but the $10,000 goal is far from being reached.

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

OCH donated the land, which Nguyen said helped the construction team avoid the otherwise arduous process of property acquisition.

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

Agha said Carleton’s students made Public Foods possible.

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

Featured image by Naomi Badour.

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