It’s back-to-school season, and for many, that means a whirlwind of challenges such as homework, exams, and juggling extracurriculars. Food insecurity should not be one of them.
24% of our new registrants in the past year were post-secondary students, and we expect this number to grow in the upcoming months.
WHY IS THE RATE OF FOOD INSECURITY ON THE RISE AMONG STUDENTS?
When we register our student clients, we ask about the factors that lead to their need for food support. Their answers are usually one of the following:
- Increasing tuition and overall cost of living,
- Low salaries,
- Inability to work full-time on top of their studies.
If they are an international student, in addition to the above factors, they were also required to abide by the 20-hour work-week limit that was put in place by the federal government many years ago. It wasn’t until recently that this decision was uplifted to attempt to address Canada’s labour shortages.
HOW ARE UNIVERSITIES RESPONDING?
Other than students we directly support, we also support high schools and post-secondary institutions such as the British Columbia Institute of Technology, Origin Church at the University of British Columbia, and the newly opened Food Pantry at Simon Fraser University (SFU). The Food Pantry at SFU is one of our 118 Community Agency Partners (CAPs). The food programs we support are either student-run, such as the BCITSA Food Support Hub or are hosted by a partnering association, such as the Origin Church Food Hub located on the University of British Columbia campus.
Started by Tara Flynn, the SFU Food Pantry was initially created to “reduce student reliance on the local community centres, churches and the Burnaby Neighbourhood Houses, while providing an accessible and student-centric experience on campus.”
The Food Pantry is currently accessible once a week for students needing a little extra food support. The GVFB is one of their sole food providers, offering a variety of pantry staples, proteins, snacks, and fresh produce.
THE SFU FOOD PANTRY EXPERIENCE
They offer a low-barrier, no questions asked experience for students to drop by when needed. A variety of students from all walks of life access their services, including single parents, refugee students, international students, and students affected by war, poverty, violence, isolation, and many others.
“We know from conversations with them that these students have not experienced the wealth and abundance of food that most Canadians are lucky to access. And all of them express pure grace and gratitude for the gift of food. Some come by just to connect – they take very little, but always say hi,” shares Tara.
According to Tara, many students are accessing the Food Pantry simply because of inflation – students cannot afford to supply themselves with the type of nutrition that best fuels their brains.
“They tell us that they opt out of nutrient-rich fresh fruits and vegetables because of how expensive they are compared to the more widely available and affordable grains and starches which make up the bulk of their diets,” Tara explains.
HOW THE GVFB PROVIDES SUPPORT
With our weekly food support, SFU Food Pantry can provide a consistent supply of essentials that fills in the gaps where many students fall short.
“I am very thankful for the Food Pantry and Food Bank. The eggs, tofu, and other cultural foods have been very helpful,” shares Qiang, an international student at SFU.
Tara hopes to expand the Food Pantry to incorporate educational elements on nutrition and food-related events to provide a better sense of belonging. In addition, she’s hoping to receive more funding to help her purchase food that best meets their students’ needs.
On the GVFB’s side, we received applications from 27 non-profit organizations that would like to become a GVFB CAP during the most recent application cycle. These organizations are looking for consistent food support to continue their food programs, after-school programs, and more; most of them have seen a dramatic decrease in food donations and funding.
The number of people experiencing food insecurity is growing in our communities. We will continue to build and maintain our relationships with food industry partners and donors to ensure we can provide consistent and sustainable support to our direct clients and partners.