Canning hunger to create social change in our community

Homelessness and food insecurity affect countless communities and groups of people, including many in the Waterloo Region. Locally, more than 3000 people used the shelter system in 2015 and 1 in 20 households rely on food banks.

Leading to issues surrounding mental health and well-being, individuals and families plagued with these concerns face hardships that lead to a poor quality of life. The University of Waterloo and fellow community partner organizations recognize these as significant problems that need addressing. On February 1, 2016, the first ever regional Design Jam was hosted by St. Paul’s GreenHouse and Communitech’s Accelerating Social Cause Entrepreneurs (ASCEnt), as an innovative way to engage students and youth aged 18 to 29 in a curated open discussion about improving food and housing security in Waterloo Region.

Students sit around a table discussing issues of hunger

With workshops facilitated by the Ontario College of Art and Design’s sLab (Strategic Innovation Lab), young leaders, mentors, and aspiring entrepreneurs gathered to conceive creative user experiences and activate ideas to address these complex problems. Director of St. Paul’s GreenHouse, Tania Del Matto, believes it’s integral to expose youth to large-scale human issues, not only to generate awareness, but more importantly, to engage them in the problem solving process and unite them with their community:

"Often youth are eager to get involved in social causes, but are slightly removed from the issue. We wanted to change that with this event by inviting community members who had lived experience with accessing emergency food, shelter and related support services to participate in the Design Jam by sharing their stories and providing feedback on the ideas generated."

Participants received training on different human design centred tools to come up with new ideas based on the problems and pain points expressed by community leaders such as Wendy Campbell, Executive Director of The Food Bank of Waterloo Region. By purposefully collaborating with our community to improve the quality of life for those accessing emergency food and shelter, youth were empowered to discover and refine their best ideas to help create social impact.

People place canned food in shape of Warriors logo Events such as Design Jam encourage students to think about how to end homelessness and food insecurity, much like the University of Waterloo’s upcoming CanBuild food drive, which strives to create awareness about hunger by providing food resources to those in need. Heading into its third year, CanBuild is not your typical food drive: it challenges teams of Waterloo students, staff, and faculty to be creative by designing and building structures out of collected food donations. Through a partnership with the Federation of Students, the University organizes this annual campus-wide initiative in support of the Feds Student Food Bank and The Food Bank of Waterloo Region.

Do you want to make a difference? Join us in our effort to CAN hunger and create social change in our community. Register your team for CanBuild today!

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