Hunger on campus and in the city
With the rising costs of rent and tuition, many students find the school year tough on their bank accounts. The cost of living does little to help the situation – groceries or campus meal plans are not a cheap expense either. Like most people who require assistance from the food bank – seniors and low-income families – students also fit this profile financially. According to the Regina Food Bank, approximately 840 students received a food hamper from October 2011 to September 2012, an average of 70.5 students a month. Last month alone, 73 students received food baskets.
“Sometimes it’s the same students, sometimes we get new ones, and sometimes old ones don’t come back, so the number is pretty much consistent,” said Tamara Armbuster, resource development manager at the Regina Food Bank.
The University of Regina Students’ Union also provides access to food for students with few options. The Community Cupboard outside of the URSU office gives students a chance to anonymously pick up some food necessities, without cost. However, much of the problem lies in the fact that these shelves often sit bare, and without food.
“Choosing between groceries and rent for the month is a challenge for a lot of students. It’s hard to gauge how many students use [the cupboard] because…we’ll put food out one afternoon and by the next morning it’s gone.” – Neil Petrich
The Community Cupboard on campus operates on an honour system, a student takes what they need and donations fill the shelves. According to Neil Petrich, the communications co-ordinator for URSU, donations are always welcome.
“Choosing between groceries and rent for the month is a challenge for a lot of students,” Petrich said. “It’s hard to gauge how many students use [the cupboard] because…we’ll put food out one afternoon and by the next morning it’s gone.”
Petrich continued to explain that most students access the cupboard after URSU office hours. He added that students also have the option of paying up front for a Good Food Box, which provides the essentials – eggs, vegetables, fruits, bread and cereal. If enough people order a food box to be delivered to the university, URSU will often also buy a box to stock the Community Cupboard.
According to Dr. Nuelle Novik, assistant professor in the Faculty of Social Work, gauging the amount of people who go hungry in Regina is just as difficult.
In 2010, the report “Access and Affordability: Saskatchewan Food Banks Explore the Cost of Healthy Eating” was conducted by the Food Banks of Saskatchewan to explore the extent of food insecurity in the province. The report was a collaboration between the Regina Food Bank, Regina Education and Action on Child Hunger (REACH) and the University of Regina. The numbers in the report regarding food insecurity in Regina were solely based on the number of individuals accessing the Regina Food Bank.
According to the report, 26 per cent of food bank clients are single men, 15 per cent are single women, 18 per cent are single parent families, and 27 per cent are two parent families. Forty-five per cent of food bank clients are children. From 2002 to 2009, food costs in Saskatchewan increased by 22 per cent.
Novik was one of the project’s committee members. She noted that there are a number of different agency crisis services in Regina which provide people with food across age groups – elderly, children, families – but there are no figures for the number of people who access these agencies.
Young or old, student or senior, single or with a family, the problem in Regina is clear – there is a demand for affordable food, and those who are not able to afford it are at risk of going hungry.
At the end of the day, says Novik, “hunger is such a big issue in the city. It’s a multi-layered issue.”