Amanda St. Amand has joined CUE’s family and has already made great strides in her role. Alongside her role as Dr. Barbara van Ingen’s assistant, Amanda has worked tirelessly on the Food Bank to ensure a well-rounded experience with students. We sat down for an interview and I learned about the remarkable things she’s done in her own life, like repelling off a downtown office building, solo skydiving, and the amazing progress she’s made with the Food Bank!
The CSA and Concordia University of Edmonton believe in taking care of the basic needs of our students. In order to be at your best, [they] truly believe that you must not be hungry, and secondly, that everyone should feel like part of a family where your well-being matters to others. CUE’s Food Bank is committed to removing the stigma of asking for help, and Amanda is excited to be working on initiatives to better engage with our CUE family.
Take a look at what Amanda has to say about being at CUE herself and, most importantly, the Food Bank. She beautifully expresses the messages of power, support, and inclusion, and even reveals some of the exciting initiatives!
Note: Answers have been edited for clarity.
What does your role look like?
“I’m Barb’s assistant and in that capacity helping out in her tasks and meetings, but it’s been made very clear from the start that if there was a choice between my tasks when in relates to students and my tasks to her, students are always given the priority. The main focus of my job, which I feel so blessed for, is CUE Food Bank–rethinking the Food Bank and rethinking students’ experiences. I’ve been crazy excited to delve into new initiatives we can work on!
My responsibilities under the Food Bank include really nurturing and growing the relationship with the students and making it a full circle approach. We want to make the Food Bank a piece to provide care for our students; we offer all the other things that students are aware of like tutoring, counselling, and more. But really, from a student wellness perspective, if you’re stressed about not being able to afford school supplies or even laundry detergent, nevermind if you’re hungry or not, it’s going to affect student experience, how well you can study, and you’ll be distracted. I want to try to get the word out and really work on reducing stigma because there’s really no harm or judgment in asking for help. Everybody in every stage of life needs help.”
Tell me a little about yourself; what do you want everyone to know?
“I think the whole kind of theme of my life is feeling powerful, feeling like there’s nothing that I can’t tweak my approach in order to make happen. Every year I put that into life terms; at least one thing I do stretches what I am capable of or I’m terrified of. I think it’s easy, whether you’re a student or you’re older, to get stuck in that routine of daily life and before you know it, you don’t have different skills. Also, every time you stretch yourself, it really just makes you a well-rounded person and it makes it easier to have lots of cool conversations with people! I’m terrified of heights, so since making this decision, I’ve done everything from doing a solo sky-dive, I’ve repelled 3 times off a downtown office tower for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, I’ve down polar dips, paraglided, and I’ve done 3 fire walks; really just things that I wouldn’t do in my normal existence which provide me the chance to connect with people. My most recent thing is I’ve taken up powerlifting, and I’m doing my first powerlifting meet on November 9th in my spandex onesie in front of 100s of people at the Butterdome! Dr. Tim Loreman will also be there for his first meet!
It doesn’t matter what you’ve done before. It doesn’t matter what your plan is, what you look like, what you think you’re capable of–literally anybody can get stronger. And when you’re stronger, you have more confidence and you feel you’re more in control. It’s such a powerful message for women and everybody, always growing up comparing yourself to everybody, made to feel like we can’t do anything, and we put a lot of that on ourselves. I look back and see how, once we make a commitment to something, regardless of what it is, how quickly we can see improvement or change. If you just make up your mind to do something and you put in the work, anything is possible. Knowing you’re more powerful than your fears, and knowing that you’re more powerful than what society has dictated you should be, is really the message I wish to portray.”
Can you tell me a little bit more about what the Food Bank used to look like and what it will look like now?
“What it used to look like was literally an open door and people could come and go. It wasn’t staffed so there was no one from Concordia there. It was just items that had been donated or purchased through funds. The door was open and people would just come and take what they needed. A lot of times we’ve heard, there were people who did not even go to Concordia who had heard about it and they were coming in to get some items, so there weren’t resources for actual students at CUE. One student told me a homeless person came in once. It’s not like they don’t need help, but they should be getting help from an institution that knows how to help them better than just an open-door university food bank, where they won’t even get a hello…we all deserve that.
Now, primarily, the door is locked. I’m working with a local business to hopefully donate a door wrap to make it more inviting and fresh but let people know it still is the Food Bank and there’s just been a little tweak. Now it would just be an email to email@example.com. It’s just reaching out with a simple hello, and I would get in contact with the person. We would set up a meeting to talk so I know about their situation. There is a one-page general application form to bring it more in line with the Edmonton Food Bank. If they were to fill it out, it takes like 2 minutes. It’s really a tool for us to open the door and start out relationships with them.
There are a few reasons for the changes: 1) to keep a record of who is using our services, and to have conversations about what their current situation is (i.e. do they need other assistance; are there different agencies that can offer more than we can offer?) 2) when we start to have those conversations we can achieve that full circle. When we meet someone face-to-face we can read between the lines.If we’re not having conversations then they can’t get invested in me and I can’t get invested in them. Generally, that day, I can get them what they need. Whether that is “I haven’t eaten in two days and I need a quick meal” or something else. Then we just set up a date to talk to just check if that was just a bad hump, and how it’s going. If you don’t have those conversations, and if you’re just saying ‘here’s food’ and nothing else, you’re missing out on all the ways we can help each other.”
Who can access the services?
“Any student can access it. There’s no questions about it – we don’t turn anyone away. If anybody comes needing help, really there’s everything in there – something to help everybody. The Food Bank is open year-round by appointment, except for the few weeks over Christmas Break.”
What’s the easiest way to access the Food Bank?
“Email is the most effective. Students can email firstname.lastname@example.org”
Is there a way people looking to volunteer can get involved?
“Judy Kruse, Dr. Loreman’s assistant, was dealing with the Food Bank before and now is dealing with the back end. She organizes the student volunteers.
On the same topic of reducing stigma and building a community – one of the initiatives we’re looking at is getting students, in the name of the Food Bank, to do a Habitat Build or things like that. Just reach out to the Food Bank email. We get donations of clothes and those need to be sorted, we need to make hampers for people, or help with just postering around the school.
Even if you had half an hour you can still make an impact and feel like you’re helping out. As people start to enjoy each other’s company and realize it’s a judgment-free zone, whether you’re using the Food Bank or helping out with the Food Bank it’s a fun thing to do.”
You mentioned the stigma to using the Food Bank. What are your thoughts on why someone would be hesitant to use it?
“I know many communities have challenges and asking for help is pretty much the worst thing or saying you can’t do it on your own. Everybody comes from such different backgrounds and such different sub-contexts throughout their whole life. There’s messages that we’ve been getting that [asking for help] is not something we should be doing and if we really had our stuff together we wouldn’t need to ask for help. It’s just programmed in us, in one way or another, that if we’re really strong enough or adult enough we would be able to figure it out on our own.
I think it can translate in so many areas of our life, but if we just take away all the baloney that we’ve been programmed with and just look at the reality of: “do I need something,” “do i need help from a friend,” “do I need help with my studies,” or “do I need to put food in my cupboard?” If the answer is yes, then the Food Bank is there. It’s just perspective and trying to change those conversations; trying to unlearn the things we learned. You wouldn’t judge your family if they were asking for something and you would do everything in your power to give that to them. My favourite quote when it comes to this is the Paul McCartney and John Lennon song, “I get a little help from my friends.” Everybody needs help, and it’s not a big deal.”
Is there anything else you’d like students to know?
“My main role is just in the Student Life and Learning department, and being concerned with student experience. But even if you don’t need the services or don’t have the ability to volunteer, then just come and hang out! I’m more than happy to just grab coffee, and chat about what’s going on.
Also – in the effort of looking at increasing people’s involvement in the Food Bank, and trying to get them not so scared for asking for things, I have figured out a deal with HIV Edmonton and they’re going to give us a truckload of condoms and more! We’ll be offering that through the Food Bank.”
Lastly, how has your Concordia experience been so far?
“I’m so lucky. I’ve literally never been less stressed or more fulfilled in my life. The students are awesome, as well as everybody. I’m literally powerlifting with the President. When I put my training videos on Instagram, Barb is the first one to like them, Barb is the first one to pat me on my back, and she comes to my powerlifting meet to cheer me on. That would never happen in any other place.”