The largest cross-campus study on food insecurity among post-secondary students conducted in Canada, called Hungry for Knowledge, found nearly 39 per cent of students participating during the year-long study experience some form of inadequate access to food.
The survey analyzed the financial barriers causing food insecurity and the negative impacts on physical and mental health, which affects two in five students. The cost of food (52.7 per cent), tuition fees (51.2 per cent), and housing costs (47.5 per cent) were the most common contributors to food insecurity. Socioeconomic status also played a role: Aboriginal and racialized peoples, students who live in residence and students who use government student financial assistance programs experience some of the highest rates of food insecurity.
Erin Barker, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Concordia University, did a collaborative report on food insecurity at specific campuses across Canada, including a pool from Concordia University. The results are in line with the Hungry for Knowledge study, and showed that the first-year Concordia students surveyed who have food insecurity are at greater risk for mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and perceived stress in comparison with students who are food secure.
Barker said that to better address food insecurity on campus, more research on the issue has to be conducted. She said different circumstances, such as students who need immediate help for groceries and one who needs a meal to get through the day, would require different methods of assistance. The University may not currently have specific data on how the issue manifests and that would deter the institution from providing the best resources, “we don’t know what the pattern of food security is, to know what the best interventions are.”
One of the initiatives in the Hungry for Knowledge project is the Meal Exchange program, which is a survey program that works directly with a post-secondary university to find data on their specific institution’s food insecurity issues, and show faculty, students and the administration the findings to better address the issue head on.
As of yet, there is no specific department at Concordia for students facing food insecurity issues, but there are several resources available spread across different departments on campus.
The Multi-faith & Spirituality Centre offers the Student Emergency and Food Fund, which are gift cards for Provigo or Maxi for students in financial crisis. Ellie Hummel, Chaplain and Coordinator at the centre, said “the fund is heavily used every year.” Hummel said that many students who come in are facing financial issues such as problems with loan payments, unemployment and personal crisis situations. Most notably for Hummel, a considerable amount of international students seek out the service: “we have a higher percentage of international students [seeking emergency food funds] than we have percentage of international students at Concordia.”
The fund relies on donations accepted from the public and fundraising efforts. Hummel said that the exercise of giving voluntary donations from the Concordia community to the students is a privilege for her. She added that she often tells students receiving the donations, “this is money, but it also comes with encouragement and a real desire for you to succeed.”
Another resource is the Emergency Meal Plan provided by the Concordia Community Health Services, where different departments at Concordia, such as the Aboriginal Centre, Financial Aid and the Campus Wellness Clinic, can fill out a form after identifying a student facing food insecurity and $100 is uploaded onto their student card.
Anne-Marie Lanctôt, manager at the Concordia University Community Health Services said there has been a significant increase in the use of the program: in 2019, the program provided $6,000 for students compared to $1,100 in 2015.
For immediate daily food needs, there are soup kitchens across campus providing food for free or on a by-donation basis.
The People’s Potato is a vegan soup kitchen at the downtown campus where students can line up from Monday to Friday, 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch. At the Loyola campus, The Hive Free Lunch program offers free vegan, wheat-free and nut-free meals for everyone, from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Both kitchens operate during the Fall and Winter semesters.
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