New report says that more Ontario post-secondary students than ever are relying upon food banks to help them get by.
The stereotype of the “starving college student” may not be a stereotype after all. The Ontario Association of Food Banks’ recently-released 2013 Hunger Report indicates that there’s a growing population of post-secondary students and recent graduates using food banks, particularly in more rural areas.
Although Ontario students and recently university graduates account for only 1% of total food bank users, they are the fastest-growing sub-group of users.
According to the report, overall food bank client numbers have dropped from last year’s record high of 412,998 Ontarians per month seeking aid to 375,789 in 2013. However, this year’s numbers still exceed those seen during the 2008 recession, and are “significantly higher” than pre-recession numbers.
45 per cent of total Canadians who use food banks live in Ontario. 2.8 per cent of the population—or 375,000 Ontarians—use food banks every month, making Ontario the biggest user of food banks in the country.
More options needed, says Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario
The Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario released its own study indicating that the lack of affordable, healthy meals on campus may also be causing students to turn to food banks—and affecting their study habits and grades as well. “When a student cannot afford to eat healthy food, their academic performance and health suffer,” says Alastair Woods, Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario. “Institutions have a responsibility to ensure that students can access affordable food that meets their dietary needs at school.”
Post-secondary students overwhelmingly rely upon student loans and/or scholarships to get by. With Ontarians paying the highest tuition rates in Canada, many find their dollars difficult to stretch. Most graduate with crushing debt—an average of $37,000 after a four-year degree—and many grads don’t immediately find jobs that pay well enough to cover both their expenses and loan repayment.
Students have made a number of suggestions that could lower dependence on food banks, including student-run food co-ops, holding farmers markets on campus and installing more cooking facilities in residences and microwaves on campus. Starting in January 2014, the Ontario government will provide farmers with a 25 per cent tax credit on produce that’s donated to local food banks and community meal programs, a move being lauded as ground-breaking by student organizations and anti-poverty advocates alike.
It’s never too late to help
Food banks in your area can always use a helping hand and no contribution is ever too small. If you’d like to help ensure that Ontarians in need have access to healthy food, you can make a difference in any number of ways:
Donate! Make a one-time donation or arrange for an automatically debited monthly cash donation to your local food bank. Even a small amount spread out over 12 months makes a huge difference to hungry students, children and families.
Volunteer! Food banks are always in need of volunteers to fill a number of positions, from order pickers to food sorters to administrative and fund-raising work. You’ll never regret having played a part in helping out the people who need it most. Organize a group volunteering session with your co-workers, fellow students, church group or friends and make it a regular event!
Collect at work, year-round! Create a spot where co-workers and students can drop off canned goods to be given to a local food bank, and encourage everyone to donate year-round.
Corporate volunteering! If you run a business, ask employees to donate food or cash and offer to match them, can for can, dollar for dollar. Sponsor staffers who participate in events like food drives and charity runs. Companies who support and encourage their employees in volunteering efforts report that their staff members are more engaged at work, have higher morale and speak highly of their employer across the board.
The Ontario Association of Food Banks is a network of more than 127 food banks and more than 1,100 hunger-relief agencies across Ontario. Visit their website to find the nearest food bank in your area.