HAMILTON (CUP) — Rising tuition and housing costs are making it difficult for some students to make ends meet, and food banks are responding to the growing need. Erin White has been running the University of Guelph student union’s food bank since it opened in October.
“This service is absolutely necessary on any campus because rising education and living costs mean more and more students and university workers are living in poverty, even if it’s a hidden problem,” White said. The Carleton University food bank is having a difficult time keeping up with the rising demand for food.
“Over the years, the number of students using this service has dramatically increased, and we continue to raise enough food to provide for their demands,” said Marc Kieley, programming co-ordinator. “However, we are actually starting to experience the growing pains of too much success: as more students become aware of the service, we’re noticing that our capacity to provide for their needs is becoming strained.” The success of these programs usually depends on how many students are aware of their food bank’s presence on campus, as well as dedicated volunteers and sponsors. “We went from helping 250 people the first year we opened to distributing enough food for over 2,200 people last year,” said David Feldman, manager of the food bank at the University of Alberta. “Our awareness on campus increases each year, and our fundraisers and food drives are becoming more and more successful.”
The food bank at the University of Western Ontario operates under a different model. “We have a food room located within the student council building, and we have 10 lockers within the building where students can anonymously pick up a food bag, which equals about two meals,” said Camilla Rogalski, food bank co-ordinator for Western’s student council. “In each bag there is about 10 to 12 items of food: for example, one can of chilli, tuna, a box of KD, two cans of vegetables, etc.,” said Rogalski. “People write to me, and I give them a locker combination and location. On average, I have about six to seven requests a week.”
Student confidentiality is important to all of the universities. “The program is completely confidential, and people do not need to tell me their names. People can come and get their food at any time. I operate the food bank on a trust basis,” said Rogalski.
Simon Fraser University’s food bank has been around for over 20 years. “In March 2004, we served 28 different households, and we set no limit on the number of times a student may visit,” said co-ordinator Negar Behmardi.
Kieley stressed the importance of providing other services to help students. “Like many food banks, we’ve always run a number of anti-stigma and education campaigns. These campaigns help discourage judgment of students or any individuals who must resort to food banks through an examination of the big issues of hunger and poverty,” the Carleton co-ordinator said. The University of Alberta also ensures additional resources beyond what the food bank can offer are available to students. “We do our best to have resources for eating on a budget, and most importantly we have a referral system,” said Feldman. “We try to find out what has caused the client’s current financial strain and then refer them to a service that is there to help them recover and get back on their feet. So far, this has been very effective.”
Food banks at these universities are open anywhere from two to 40 hours per week. Most rely on donations, but funding for the programs varies significantly. A student fee funds the food bank at Guelph. “Students have taken it upon themselves to meet the needs of our community,” said White. While the University of Alberta food bank receives much of its funding from student unions, it is independent of any other campus body, Feldman said.
Although no food bank exists at McMaster University yet, the school does offer some options for students in need. Students may donate their Air Miles to a program that exchanges them for food vouchers.