With a new school year quickly approaching we wanted to do another speaker series and this time focus on clubs and organizations at Wilfrid Laurier University that are also focused on sustainability and align with our values. We were able to talk to Karly Rath the Volunteer and Community Engagement Director at Laurier Students Public Interest Research Group and below is a transcript of our conversation. (Responses have been lightly edited for clarity)
Food Fight (FF): Tell us a little bit about LSPIRG and your role at LSPIRG?
Laurier Students Public Interest Research Group (LSPIRG): LSPIRG is a non-profit organization on campus that works with students and the community to act on social injustices. Specifically in the area of food sustainability we are involved in a variety of different programs.
The first one is called Food Not Bombs which is a collective and we help the Kitchener Chapter collect food from grocery stores and bakeries that is then cooked and distributed in downtown Kitchener every Saturday.
We have a free weekly distro every Thursday from 1:30pm-5:30pm at the Martin Luther University College Building on the Waterloo campus. Some products that are available include food, hygiene products, and cleaning supplies.
We also grow our own food in a few different places to help reduce food waste as growing locally helps eliminate the waste created by growing, transporting, and packaging food. On the Northdale campus, one block away from the Waterloo campus we have a community garden where we help support the Young City Growers non-profit that hires black youth to grow the food which is then sold in a community- supported agriculture program. We also have an action group that invites racialized groups to grow food. On the Waterloo campus we have what we call the Food Justice garden, which includes the circular planters in the quad and along the music building, where members of the indigenous community are invited to grow food. As well, we have another action group working with the Brantford Food Forest to use permaculture principles to grow food. Any food not used in any of our initiatives gets dropped off at a community fridge.
FF: How did you first get involved with LSPIRG?
LSPIRG: I was a student at the Laurier Brantford campus in the journalism program and in my classes I did work around gender violence and volunteered with LSPIRG to create a gender violence policy. I am now a staff member as the Volunteer and Community Engagement Director on the Waterloo campus.
FF: What are LSPIRG’s overall goals?
LSPIRG: Our goals are tied to our values, which are values and principles of community care, anti-oppression, mutual aid, and striving for equity and justice. We have action groups in place that are working towards these goals.
FF: How has COVID impacted LSPIRG?
LSPIRG: Pre-COVID we had a lot of educational programming, but then once the pandemic hit we realized that students and the community were in a worse place than we originally thought. Therefore, we decided to take action and used our programming budget to create a student emergency fund program of $40,000. The weekly distro program I mentioned previously, was also started as a direct result of increased food insecurity with existing programs shut down due to COVID, so we needed to fill that gap.
FF: What do you attribute LSPIRG’s success to?
LSPIRG: The community is so incredible and it has been incredible to see people, especially during the pandemic, who of course have their own struggles, who have such a deep empathy for others and who are dedicated and passionate about doing what it takes to provide support for others. We actually have more volunteers than we need for our free weekly distro, so it’s been amazing to see so many people who care and want to help.
FF: What would you say to students about getting involved in LSPIRG and what the fee goes towards?
LSPIRG: I have already mentioned a number of different programs and action groups, so if you are interested in getting involved or learning more about any of them please email us and also follow our social media pages for other ways to get involved in social and environmental justice oriented events. (See the end of the post for LSPIRG’s info)
The fee goes towards all the programs and action groups that have been previously mentioned so as a student you are helping make a large difference in the lives of others and LSPIRG was something the student body voted to have in 2005. As well, we offer one-time funding opportunities to students or members of the community who are passionate about an initiative to help make the community a better place. Food Fight knows this very well, as we recently provided $725 in support to their initiative. It is a way for you to pay it forward while also making a massive impact, because it is only $5, but spread across over 20,000 students that is a lot of money to do a lot of good.
FF: What has been your highlight so far of being a part of LSPIRG?
LSPIRG: Just being able to see what one student can do and the difference they can make. For example, one student came to me a few years ago and said she was struggling to access menstrual products on campus and it was impacting her daily life. Fast forward to today and she’s now a Director on our Board and working on making these products more accessible for students. This is just one example of many that shows that once you reach out and connect to others you really do have the power to create meaningful change.
FF: Anything else you would like to promote?
LSPIRG: Food Fight is included as a collective that LSPIRG is so proud to support, they are an example of realizing a problem, coming together, and creating a solution to these problems.
FF: Thank you for your time and we really appreciate LSPIRG’s support in helping bring Food Fight to life. Below are LSPIRG’s website, email, and social media information if you are interested in getting involved or would like to learn more:
Waterloo: Karly Rath - email@example.com
Brantford: Mahdiyyah Kasmani - firstname.lastname@example.org