More Canadians relying on food banks

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A food drive program at the University of Regina is asking students to donate what they can so that it can be given to other students in need.

The school’s students’ union organizes a food drive project, called Community Cupboards, that follows the motto, “Give what you can. Take what you need.”

Katie Honey, vice-president of external affairs with the students’ union, explained that there are a number of shelves located outside of the union’s office that are accessible to any and all students at the university. In the cupboards, Honey said, there are about 100 food items available to students at a given time.

An increasing number of Canadians, including university students, are relying on food banks when they cannot make ends meet. According to the Hunger Count 2009 report by Food Banks Canada, almost 800,000 Canadians accessed a food bank in March 2009 — 18 per cent more than in March 2008.

The report states that Canada still has a growing need for food banks, with almost every province and territory seeing an increase in usage. The only province that did not report a significant increase over the year was Prince Edward Island.

More issues may be at play than the current state of the economy. According to the report, “Saskatchewan and Manitoba, two provinces that escaped the worst effects of the recession, saw increases in food bank use of six per cent and 18 per cent respectively.” In March 2009, Manitoba assisted 47,925 individuals in March 2009 while Saskatchewan assisted 18,875 individuals.

Honey said there are currently more students who need to take food from the cupboards than there are those putting food into them at the U of R. A weekly drop off from the Regina Food Bank offsets this shortage.

“If we didn’t have [the food bank] it would be hard [to continue the project], because we would continually have to be advertising and reaching out to people to bring food here to donate to students. It’s nice that we know that the food is coming every week,” said Honey.

Without Community Cupboards, students in need would have difficulty getting food off-campus in Regina.

“Just to get to the food bank here in the city might be more difficult because it’s not in the ideal location, and here they can just come and pick up the food,” said Honey.

“People that are struggling month to month to get food often have to use public transportation, and that’s not the easiest way to get around the city, unfortunately. Just having the food here makes life a lot easier for our students.”

Jane Lastra, director of financial aid and awards at the University of Manitoba, said that 15 to 20 students per week are accessing the U of M food bank.

“Depending on the time of year, we have users who will use it weekly and we will find users who come in once a month or once a term,” said Lastra.

Unlike the Community Cupboards at U of R, the U of M food bank does not receive support from local food banks unless they are in serious need. Rather, there is a set budget for the food bank to purchase groceries, although donations are accepted.

Both Lastra and Honey said they see an increase in food bank use during the winter months as the holiday season approaches. At the U of M food bank, Lastra said she’s seeing a two to three per cent increase in student usage annually.

“We’re shopping weekly,” said Lastra. “December, because it’s busier, it could be two times a week, or as we need.”

Lastra, like Honey, said that students would run into difficulties if the campus food bank were to close.

“If we lost the food bank on campus, it would present a problem for students. The accessibility and the privacy of it is a plus. It’s easy for them to come by. We keep it well stocked all the time,” she said

“Most students are using pubic transportation, so it would be difficult for them to get to [the Winnipeg Harvest food bank]. They could find food, but I say it would be tougher for them.”