Nearly 40 per cent of college and university students don’t have enough to eat, says the largest cross-campus study on student food insecurity in Canada, called Hungry for Knowledge. The study was conducted earlier this year and included over 4000 students from five university campuses including Brock, Dalhousie, Lakehead, Ryerson and the University of Calgary.
Similar to general rates of food insecurity across the greater population of Canada, African, Caribbean and Aboriginal students are the most impacted. 75 per cent of African students, 56 per cent of Indigenous students, and 53 per cent of Caribbean students reported moderate to severe food insecurity. Students living off campus also reported slightly higher rates of food insecurity than their on-campus peers, and students who are also single parents and have their children living with them reported 71 per cent moderate to severe food insecurity.
Not surprisingly, different sources of income corresponded with higher rates of insecurity. Students who depend primarily on Band Council funding or bank loans are hit the hardest, with both reporting 55 per cent food insecurity. Students with government loans came next, with 54 per cent. Students relying on savings or their parents to fund them reported the least insecurity, at slightly less than 30 per cent.
Students reported a number of reasons for their lack of food security, including the cost of food, the cost of housing and the cost of tuition. Hungry for Knowledge reports that the cost of food and housing has risen faster than the average rate of inflation, making it difficult for students to keep up. While there is arguably plenty of food to go around on campus, many students balk at the prices. With prices averaging out around 10 dollars for lunch, five days a week, eating only on campus, certainly adds up over time. Students could already be spending around $200 a month on lunch alone.
Tuition fees, which are a barrier to post-secondary attendance for marginalized groups, is also an issue. Tuition rates have nearly doubled in the last 20 years, averaging at $6191 for the 2014/15 school year. This is, of course, excluding the cost of textbooks, school supplies, transportation, health care and other ancillary fees students might be required to pay.
When people hear that students don’t have enough to eat, the first thing they say is ‘get a job!’ That, however, is easier said than done. The Financial Post reports that the employment rate for Canadians between the ages of 15 to 24 has decreased to 55.2 per cent as of June 2016. Emphasis on unpaid experience before a young person can even think about gainful employment has made it difficult for students in precarious financial situations to break the part-time job cycle and begin their careers.
Aside from the lack of jobs, pressure on students to do well in school and receive top grades and also keep up with social lives and on campus activities makes worrying about whether students will have enough to eat anxiety-inducing.
With changes coming to how the Ontario Student Assistance Program works, increasing grants from the federal government and the possibility of free tuition on the horizon, students may be seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Whether food security will improve as a result of these changes remains to be seen.
So what can a student at Brock University do if they don’t have enough to eat? If you’re dealing with issues of food insecurity yourself, there is a solution, even if it’s only temporary. The Student Justice Centre runs a food bank located at General Brock in Welch Hall. Students may access the bank 3 times per semester and are required to provide no other information than their student card. Their anonymity is protected and they’ll receive their items within 24 hours, depending on availability. The food bank though, is not intended to replace a regular trip to the grocery store.
“The Student Justice Centre Food Bank is aimed at addressing issues of food insecurity among Brock students by providing access to non-perishable food items to students in need. The food bank is designed to be an emergency service, and is not intended to be a primary source of food for any one student,” says the SJC’s website.
The Hungry for knowledge report also comes with a number of recommendations for solving the student food insecurity crisis, including implementing a periodic national food security survey for students, and addressing the issues that create barriers to education and food security for Indigenous students.
Students who are still in need beyond the seven non-perishable food items and two personal hygiene items the bank can provide, there are several other solutions including food banks and co-ops in the Niagara region. Students can also apply for an emergency loan through Brock University’s OneApp. Students should indicate that they have an urgent shortfall of funds and they will be contacted by a rep from the Brock financial aid office. They may be required to support their claim.
Students can apply in person at the Student Awards and Financial Aid offices , which operates Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on the fourth floor of the Schmon Tower.