Saint Mary's University opens Community Food Room food bank
'Food insecurity can be a huge problem in the university community,' says the Community Food Room
Hungry students have a new place to turn after Saint Mary's University opened an on-campus food bank last week.
A financial aid and awards officer said he saw the need for a campus food bank from working in the financial aid office.
Students were coming in to pay school fees, said Allen Wolfe, but were not able to buy food.
He had been referring students to food banks around the city.
"But now we can actually direct them to an on campus food bank, which is a lot closer and they'll definitely get there," he said.
"And we can track the numbers and see who we're helping out so we can customize it towards those certain student groups."
The Community Food Room is located on the top floor of the O'Donnell Hennessey Student Centre. A recent food drive by the alumni office gathered more than 1,500 kilograms of food to stock the shelves.
The Community Food Room is open Monday from 9 a.m. to noon and Thursday 1:00 p.m. to 4 p.m. during the summer, said Wolfe. He said it will be open for twelve hours a week once the school year starts.
The room has only been open for nine hours total, said Wolfe, but it has already helped nine students.
Wolfe said visiting the food bank is completely anonymous and students can visit once a week.
Seeing more users
Saint Mary's Community Food Room is based on the food bank at Dalhousie University, which has been running since 2003. But the student union said it is seeing more users.
"We generally see 160 students visiting it a month," said Dalhousie Student Union vice president John Hutton.
"But actually we've seen recently a spike to 200 visitors a month. We've noticed that and we're worried by it."
Hutton said those numbers have been steady throughout the summer too when there are typically fewer students on campus.
He blames inadequate student loan packages, high tuition fees and rent and low minimum wage for why more students are using food banks.
Saint Mary's and Dalhousie said international students often use the food banks.
Wolfe said some international students do not realize how much food costs in Canada and do not budget enough money for food.
Hutton said higher tuition fees for international students cut into budgets.
One international student from China said food is expensive.
"I always need to calculate how much monies I spend on food," said Caroline Xu.
Struggling to pay tuition fees, rent and groceries can be stressful, said student Michelle Bennett.
"I did my undergrad in Fredericton, New Brunswick at UNB, and I feel like expenses here in Halifax, in general are higher," said fellow student Desmond Connolly.
Saint Mary's and Dalhousie have joined forces so students can use the food banks at either school.