Visits to University of B.C.’s on-campus food bank have almost tripled since last year.
In October, the student-run food bank reported 95 visits. This compares to just 30 in October 2014, a rise that echoes the pattern of earlier months this year.
“I feel like the need was always there and, because people didn’t know about it, they never used it in the first place,” said Jay Singh. He took over as the Alma Master Society’s food bank co-ordinator in May.
He believes the higher number reflects an increased awareness about the service. The AMS started to spread the word and now departments across the university are doing the same.
Those same awareness initiatives have helped the food bank keep up with the demand. Donations have increased, making it possible for the food bank to meet the demand.
“It’s been working. We haven’t had empty shelves necessarily because we’ve been hustling to get food on the shelves,” said Singh.
Singh’s challenge now is to figure out what to do if the increase continues. This could include implementing a more straightforward application process that allows food-bank operators to assess need.
“I’m not saying that’s a problem right now but it’s something that we should be wary about as we progress,” said Singh.
An estimated 240 students have received food since May. They can access the food bank up to six times per term. The process is simple. Students fill one bag each visit, two if they have a family. The food bank stocks the usual non-perishable items such as canned vegetables, grains and tinned fish. It also carries toiletries, baby food and diapers. A fridge was added recently in order to provide some fresh produce.
The users of the service tend to be graduate students and international students at all levels. Some are juggling family demands and schoolwork; others were unprepared for how expensive Vancouver can be.
Susan MacDonald, a law student, collects three bags on each of her visits. One of the bags is for herself, the other two are for her son and his baby.
“We’re here as a family to try and make it to when the bursaries issued, through Christmas and then to when the student loans arrive, and he’s said he has horrendous day care costs as well,” said MacDonald.
MacDonald believes the food bank is necessary and she helped to participate in a video promoting the service to other students.
UBC is not the only university in the Vancouver area seeing a rise in food bank use.
The Graduate Student Society at Simon Fraser University reported an increase in the number of students applying to their emergency grocery card program following the closure of Louis Riel House, according to GSS finance director Greg Christie. That affordable housing, available for mature students and students with families, closed in August, forcing them to find more expensive accommodation elsewhere.
The GSS reported a 300-per-cent increase in the number of cards distributed since the program launched in the summer of 2012.
“We presume that some of this is because of increasing knowledge of the program from word of mouth,” said Christie.
Last week, Food Bank Canada’s annual study on food bank usage found that more than 850,000 people in Canada relied on food banks in March this year. In B.C ,100,086 people visited food banks that month, the highest on record for the province. In Vancouver, numbers year over year have remained fairly steady.
The report does not include university food banks such as the AMS Food Bank or SFU’s grocery-card schemes.