Anne Ostwald’s Social Justice 12 class presented at a city council meeting on Monday, June 10. ELENA RARDON PHOTO

Port Alberni high school students bring issues to city hall

Alberni District Secondary School students talk washroom accessibility, food waste

Students from Alberni District Secondary School filled the seats at Port Alberni’s city council chambers on Monday as they asked for the city’s support for two class projects.

Students from Anne Ostwald’s Social Justice 12 class, which is made up of students aged 15-18, met with council on Monday, June 10 to discuss two projects that they have been working on as groups.

“Our class projects are based off of the fact that we, as a significant part of the community, want to improve current conditions that we see might become bigger issues in the future,” said student Sydney Cox-Eskola. “We believe that we should be listened to just as much, if not more, than the adults of the community because the decisions made now will affect us later on in our lives.”

‘Crappy’ conditions

Their first concern was for BC Transit drivers and their accessibility to washroom facilities while they are working. Drivers are allowed a 10-minute break every two hours, which they use to lock the bus, eat and use the washroom. Bus drivers in Port Alberni also do not have a reserved bathroom—bus drivers on duty rush to use the washroom at the McDonalds on Redford, which students argue is not appropriate.

The group narrowed down three options for bus driver washrooms. One suggestion was to rent out part of the parking lot at the former KFC location on Redford Street and install two porta potties, secured by a fence. Another was to rent a bathroom trailer and park it in the KFC parking lot. The third and final suggestion was renting the former KFC building and converting it into an office where bus drivers can keep their belongings and take bathroom breaks. This would cost around $166 per month, plus taxes and renovations.

Councillor Cindy Solda noted that BC Transit has an agreement with the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District. The ACRD will be holding a discussion about regional transit during an upcoming meeting on Wednesday, June 12.

“The washrooms have been a subject that has been brought up,” said Solda. “The mayor and I will be at that meeting and we will bring that up again.”

Mayor Sharie Minions also said that the city will be holding a committee of the whole meeting in July to discuss transit options, and extended an invitation for students to attend.

Save the waste

The second concern brought up by students was the tremendous amount of food being wasted in Port Alberni. Around 669 kilograms of waste per person goes directly to the landfill, according to the students, and that produces methane gas that is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. At the same time, around one-eighth of Canadian citizens are going hungry.

“This is a global issue, but we have to start here in Port Alberni in our own backyards,” said student Jenna Sportak.

Members of the group reached out to connect local charities and businesses, but learned that charities and businesses are already connected—although food is not being distributed evenly.

Students pointed out that the City of Victoria has appointed a food systems coordinator to help with the delivery of food security and food systems initiatives. Port Alberni has a group known as the Alberni Valley Food Redistribution Key Stakeholders, which helps bring charities together to discuss food redistribution, but this is not common knowledge.

Student Nathan Tsai said that many students joined the project because they were “frustrated” with how much food they were seeing thrown away. “We had, however, no idea what was already happening,” he added. “As our project progressed, the generosity of our community was revealed to us.”

He suggested increasing promotion for local non-profits through the City of Port Alberni’s social media channels. He also recommended incentives to encourage local businesses to donate their unused and edible food waste.

Solda, who works at Solda’s Restaurant, said that most of the food waste from her restaurant is given to local farmers. Leftovers, however, are hard to give away to people in need because of FoodSafe regulations.

Minions said she loved the idea of using the city’s manager of communications to promote some of the initiatives going on in the community.

“That might be going on somewhat already, but I think being more intentional about it is a great idea,” she said. “So we will bring that forward.”

Minions added on Monday that it was “great” to see young people getting engaged and taking an active interest in what is going on at city hall.

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