C/O Ester Chow
The Silhouette: Please introduce yourself.
Ester Chow: My name is Ester Chow and I'm the Assistant Director of the Food Collective Center, the FCC. I go by she/her pronouns. I'm in my fourth year of [the health sciences program] in the Child Health specialization.
What is the FCC?
You can think of it as the food bank on campus. It's a major hub for anything to do with food. We have a community kitchen program where people can learn to cook food. We have food boxes where you can get a big box of fresh produce for $15. A big part of what I oversee is the Lockers of Love program where people can access food and health items confidentially. You basically just fill out a form. You don't have to put your name on anything. Then, within two to three days, we'll send you a locker code and you can go pick up your food and health items.
What inspired you to join the FCC?
In my second year, I participated in one of the community kitchen workshops. It was a five- or six-week thing where you get to go and cook with other people and learn a new skill. One thing I really appreciated about it was the community aspect. There's a lot of great initiatives and clubs off campus but it can feel a little bit like working in isolation. With this community kitchen, it wasn't about learning by myself — we were a team. In fourth year, I also realized that I was missing something that really made me feel like I was making a big difference. I joined a lot of clubs and was really interested in research, but also just doing a lot of things I was told I should be doing. In my fourth year, I wanted to do something for myself. I really liked the FCC and even though it was kind of a new experience, I just went for it.
Can you elaborate on the community aspect?
When Morghen, the Director and I were choosing the [executive] team and volunteers, we really wanted to give people the opportunity to join us whether or not they had experience at all. We wanted to give everyone an opportunity because food isn't really something that you necessarily have to have a lot of academic or personal background with; it's something that you have to have every day. We also really try to think about the community impact even in small things. For example, we have Trick or Eat, which is our Halloween food drive. We emphasize that it's not food that goes just towards [McMaster] students, but also to the nearby community. So we set up bins in Westdale and Emerson and all around campus. People who can access Lockers of Love, which is what most of the donations go to, are not just [McMaster] students. It can be for someone who's affiliated, it can be for a family member. So that's another part of how community plays a role. It's not just the students that are affected by food insecurity, but it's a deeper intersectionality that also affects a family, affects their ability to do well in school [and] their ability to exist as a person.
What continues to inspire you in the FCC?
I think that the opportunity to oversee Lockers of Love made all of these intangible numbers about food insecurity much more real. For example, something simple is in first year when you have a meal plan. You kind of expect everyone in residence to have the same amount when you're living together. That kind of thought can be really damaging when you go into second or third year and you're living on your own, you're working and cooking for yourself and you see other people are getting takeout all the time or you're struggling to get fresh foods. There are all these things that you compare yourself with. That was a big part of contextualizing everything through Lockers of Love when I realized how many people were using it. Another thing that Morghen and I continued from last year is the e-card version [of Lockers for Love]. Just because we're slowly transitioning to in-person [classes], it doesn't mean that those cards aren't valuable to people who might not be able to get to campus. I've just learned so much from people who are contacting me and saying that Lockers of Love has helped them and how we can make it better. That's the biggest part. For me, I'm just doing this as a job and I really enjoy it. But for some people, they really rely on this to survive. So being able to connect with those people, even though I don't know their names, makes me feel that this campus needs the food centre.