Food banks on Metro Vancouver university campuses see spike in demand

Despite the rate of inflation easing slowly, the cost of food isn’t dropping as quickly, and that’s leading to more students in Metro Vancouver turning to food banks for help.

Both Simon Fraser University (SFU) and the University of British Columbia (UBC) offer these services on their respective campuses and say demand has been steadily climbing.

Student groups at both schools say they’re hearing heartbreaking stories from students who are having to choose between paying medical bills, tuition, and rent, or eating.

Navleen Brar, vice-president of external and community affairs with SFU’s Student Society, says there’s a community fridge in the Student Union Building (SUB) at the main campus on Burnaby Mountain. She says it’s being used not just by students but by people living in the area, including some seniors.

“We also have some of the older members of our community coming in and having grocery bags because this is something they consider to be their grocery shopping for the week. They don’t really have the means to go anywhere else,” she said.

Brar says they also have a free breakfast program for students, hand out food vouchers, and says volunteers deliver snacks to students studying in the SUB to keep them fuelled between classes.

“It’s very clear we have a big food insecurity crisis on campus,” Brar explained.

Brar says they’re also seeing a lot of international students reaching out for support, and notes many are struggling to sidestep the stigma associated with needing help.

“I’ll notice that closer to the evening, when there aren’t as many people around, I’ll see a few [international] students come and use the fridge, rather than at peak hours,” she told CityNews.

She explains when she goes to stock the fridge, there’s often already a line-up.

The fridge is stocked with the help of monetary donations and donations from a nearby grocery store. However, Brar says sometimes all they’re able to get is bread.

“It’s not something, I believe, is sustainable for day-to-day purposes or even throughout the day.”

Kathleen Simpson, the senior manager of Student Services at UBC, echoes concerns, saying demand for the food bank at that school has risen by double or even triple every year since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Last year, pretty much every month we saw an increase from the previous year and that trend is holding true this year as well,” she said.

Simpson feels the stereotype of a “starving student” has been a reality for a long time.

“I think that, certainly, there has been a lot of attention on this issue right now, but it has been a long-standing issue for students who may not be able to bring in the income they need to be able to make ends meet in Vancouver especially,” she explained.

A University of British Columbia (UBC) flag with a logo on a pole
FILE – The University of British Columbia. (CityNews Image)

She adds fighting inflation is a double-edged sword that “actually hits us twice.”

“A lot more folks come to food banks because of the cost of groceries, but on the flipside, our cost of purchasing the cost of groceries we need to distribute also goes up,” Simpson said.

Neither Brar nor Simpson are sure of what the solution to food insecurity is but agree more funding and government intervention would help these programs expand and succeed.

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