As of Feb. 1, cash-strapped students at Langara College have been able to grab a free bag of groceries and toiletries from the financial aid office in the T-Building.
The Community Cupboard, which operates like a food bank, is a 12-week pilot project developed by The Hub, the Langara Foundation, and the financial aid office. It is designed to help out food-insecure students throughout the latter part of the spring semester.
Jagmail Dhillon, a first-year computer science student who spends $100 per week on groceries and has to keep a part-time job to cover expenses, welcomes the Community Cupboard.
“It would be really helpful for me,” said Dhillon. “I could invest more time into my studies and save money.”
The hungry months
Laura Vail, the assistant registrar for financial assistance and information services, said students are most financially stable in the first two months of the year. So far, fewer than five students have used the service.
“In March, we see students running out of money and that’s when we expect to see more,” Vail said.
The project was created to be as barrier-free as possible, so although students are required to complete a brief survey, no proof of financial need is necessary, Vail said. The survey will collect data for demand for a permanent program later, she added.
“Bags are pre-packed and students typically have a vegetarian and non-vegetarian option,” Vail said.
Food bank usage a systemic problem
In a room adjacent to the financial aid office, orange Langara tote bags are stuffed with food and hygiene products that sit side by side on a grey shelf.
According to a study in partnership with Canadian universities and the charity Meal Exchange, 39 per cent of post-secondary students in Canada are food-insecure, defined by the researchers as having “limited or inadequate access to food due to insufficient finances.”
Graham Riches has studied food insecurity since 1986. The UBC School of Social Work professor is critical of the existence of food banks, seeing the financial uncertainties as a systemic problem.
“It’s a question for the authorities and the students,” Riches said.
“Why aren’t they putting pressure on the politicians to actually engage the issues of adequate welfare benefits, student loans, and grants? I think it’s totally unacceptable, given the wealth of this province.”
Published in the February 23, 2017, edition of the The Langara Voice
Feature image by Sasha Lakic