Algonquin Times writer Meg Wall Photo credit: Thomas Gordon

It’s a Thursday morning, 8:36 a.m. and the bus has arrived at Baseline Station. After staying up past midnight to finish assignments and proceeding to sleep-in (only to still be an hour short of the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep), it feels as though there is never enough time in a day.

With your stomach rumbling and mind still drowsy from the unsolicited ringing of the last alarm set, the all-too-common question pops into your head: Is it worth risking being late to the morning class and walk to the Starbucks in College Square? Or, do you go to class with an empty stomach and buy something later?

It is a question many postsecondary students do not need to ask. Most university and college campuses have several coffee shops – whether a chain such as Tim Hortons or Starbucks, or an independently owned or student-run shop – across the property. But at Algonquin College, only Savoir Faire (E-building), The Fix (CA-building) and the two separate restaurants in the cafeteria, Marketplace (D-building), are currently open with limited hours – oh, and the campus bar, the Wolves Den, is open until 7 p.m. on weekdays, too.

But the meals currently available are overpriced (a slice of pizza costs $4.20 at Luigi’s Gourmet Pizza in the cafeteria and a set of three tacos costs $12.99 in the Wolves Den), the coffee available within the dispensers does not cut it for the average coffee lover and a morning shot from a mickey is generally frowned upon.

The campus Starbucks in the Student Commons (E-building) temporarily closed on June 23 for “renovations and expansion,” according to the Algonquin College Students’ Association. The Tim Hortons (A-building) closed the same day. Arguably the two most popular spots on campus to frequent during class breaks or for a quick afternoon pick-me-up, the temporary cessations silently joined the list of other campus food services closed for the summer.

Without much notice, the closures came as a surprise to many students, leaving those who rely on the food services to alter their plans, change their daily routines or spend less time on campus.

The Spring 2023 semester at Algonquin College is currently hosting 7,425 students, a sharp decline from the 15,297 expected this fall.

Each day, hundreds of students arrive on campus to learn new skills, build friendships, and shape their futures.

But on an empty stomach or with a caffeine addict’s brain fog, is it possible to create the durable foundation that is needed to support lifelong success?

In October 2021, Meal Exchange conducted a survey across Canada to observe food insecurity among postsecondary students. It found that 32.4 per cent of students studying in Canada were skipping meals due to finances, with 56.8 per cent of all participants reporting severe to moderate food insecurity.

Meals on campus can be expensive and the food services that were affordable, such as the Tim Hortons, are closed for the summer, leaving students who may have already been in a vulnerable position worse off.

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, caffeine is the most prevalent psychoactive substance in the world, with more than 80 per cent of adult North Americans regularly consuming it.

Through personal investigation, it takes an average of 16 minutes to walk from the Student Commons to the Starbucks in College Square and back, if you are fortunate enough to stumble upon no line. If departing from Baseline station, it is slightly quicker, an average of 14 minutes. The Tim Hortons on Navaho and Baseline was the longest walk, with an average of 18 minutes.

These precious minutes could be spent studying, connecting with fellow students or learning in the classroom.

(It must be noted that this is coming from a fast-walker who is not living with a disability or mobility issues.)

It’s hard to learn when the mind is craving a caffeine boost or if blood sugar is running low, but the food services are closed on a day you did not have time to pack a lunch.

And, for students with physical disabilities, leaving campus is not always a feasible option.

It’s hard to understand a college whose mission statement is “to transform hopes and dreams into lifelong success” and that holds the values of caring, integrity, learning and respect when services that could easily be available on campus – not to mention, simultaneously providing students jobs – are unfortunately shuttered to the students and staff still attending the campus.

Perhaps this is the opinion of a privileged Canadian. Perhaps it is “easy” to take the time in the morning to brew a cup of coffee and pack a lunch. Sure, it would be cheaper, but for full-time students who have extracurriculars, a family or part-time employment, convenience and accessibility will always be prioritized.