Nfld. & Labrador

International students biggest users of MUN's campus food bank

The majority of users of the campus food bank at Memorial University in St. John's are international students who find it tough making ends meet once they get here.

Roughly 4,800 bags of groceries go out the bank's doors each year

Since the CBC reported on the food bank's difficult situation, things have begun to turn around, said Marianna Burda, co-founder of the South Shore food bank on P.E.I. (Cec Haire/CBC)

More than half of Memorial University's food bank users in St. John's are students who make up a smaller portion of the school's population: international graduate students.

"The need is great," said Paul Murphy, president of the MUN campus food bank. 

On average, 4,800 bags of food go out the food bank's doors every year, and 60 per cent of those on the receiving end are international students.

Food bank president Paul Murphy says they give what they can to the international graduate students who find it difficult making ends meet. (Cec Haire/CBC)

They come to Memorial University from Africa, the Middle East, India, East Asia and South America.

"The students come here and then find apartment rents are steeper [and] food is more expensive. They find that their costs are greater than they thought, and sometimes they run out of food before the end of the month," said Murphy. 

Economic relief

"I'm not surprised," said Emma lang, an international student from Massachusetts.

Lang, who is working on a folklore PHD, said many internationals are living on the edge financially, and are in desperate shape.

Emma Lang says it's a struggle for international graduate students. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

"I've seen people walk to the food bank and, when I ask them about it, they deny it," said Lang.

"They don't want their parents to know that they've come to this great university — and their parents are often sacrificing quite a bit to send them — but they are not able to eat,"  said Lang.

'Poor student' stereotype is real 

"It's not a joke. It's not a joke," Murphy said, adding that many graduate students from around the world are just scraping by.

Murphy says while this time of year is generally the slow season, a lot of international students don't get to go home so they use the food bank year round. (Cec Haire/CBC)

"If anything comes along, a little extra cost or a little extra charge, they [have] to pay somehow, and then you don't have money for groceries," said Murphy.

In December, the food bank saw a 30 per cent jump in Christmas hampers.

Then, weeks later, the students were back in droves.

"We had lineups for most of January," Murphy said.

Emma Lang is from Massachusetts and says for many, the campus food bank is the one place you can get relief. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Lang, who's been living in St. John's for almost three years, can attest to the hardships of living the international student life. At times, she has had to budget to an extreme.

"How many days can I make this bag of rice last? What is the cheapest way for me to buy potatoes," she said she asks herself regularly.

"I've had meals where all I've eaten is potatoes. I rarely eat meat and almost never by fresh vegetables," added Lang.

Tougher times ahead

Tuition fees for international students are going up 30 per cent in the fall of 2018.

Lang says when it comes to using food banks many students keep it secret because they are embarrassed to tell their parents. (Ted Dillon?CBC)

Two new fees are also being introduced: a campus renewal fee and a student services fee.

Lang isn't impressed.

"We're being left with an unpleasant taste in our mouths because we're facing another fee hike," she said.

"Last year the chaplaincy set up a winter coat drive so you could get a coat. Our students shouldn't need that."

Murphy says the food bank is up to the challenge of meeting the need of non-North American students," Things that I never ate as a kid, that we never had supper time when my mom put the food the on the table" (Cec Haire/CBC)

At the food bank, Murphy said he's already seeing the effect of rising fees.

"Last Monday night I had a student come in — and he hadn't been here since Christmas — because he's had to start saving up his money in case there was a fee increase," he said.

"He's trying to solve the problem by coming here and getting his food here, and then saving the money that way."