How UPEI students will get help to cope with rising costs this fall

Organizations at the University of Prince Edward Island are gearing up to help students deal with inflation during the upcoming school year.

'A lot of students are struggling with the high prices of food, rising inflation'

'We're taking this week and next week to prepare for the onslaught of new students coming,' says Sister Sue Kidd, who runs the Chaplaincy Centre where the UPEI food bank is located. (Ryan McKellop/CBC News)

Organizations at the University of Prince Edward Island are gearing up to help students deal with inflation during the upcoming school year. 

The UPEI food bank is currently closed for two weeks, but inside, shelves are neatly stacked with canned goods.

"You came on a good day," Sister Sue Kidd told CBC News as she was organizing the items.

Kidd runs the Charlottetown campus's Chaplaincy Centre, where the UPEI food bank is located.

"We're opening again on the 14th of September and this will be gone…. This will all go within a week."

Some cans are lined up rows deep. Other areas — like the section where rice should be — are entirely empty.

"I'm worried," said Kidd. "The cost of living is just soaring. When students prepare a budget before coming to university, they can allocate a certain amount for food. But often they under-budget when it comes to food prices. They get here and they just find it so expensive."

'Definitely concerned'

The UPEI Student Union is also preparing. 

"I'm definitely concerned," said Leena Daboo, the student organization's VP of Finance and Administration, who said many students are squeezed by a combination of rising food costs and rents being very high.

'Don't be afraid, I'm here to help. The student union is here to help,' says Leena Daboo, the UPEISU's VP of Finance and Administration. (Ryan McKellop/ CBC News)

Daboo said there are resources available to help those who find themselves stuck. For example, UPEI students can apply to an emergency funding program to receive between $250 and $750. There are also programs providing gas and grocery gift cards, awarded on a needs basis.

"Applications have been rising for sure," she said.

Daboo said the student union does its best to help all those who reach out, but sometimes it can be tricky to find solutions for everyone.

"As much as I want to help 100 students and/or help everybody who applies for the emergency funding, for example, I know that I can't," she said.

The UPEI food bank is specifically looking for donations of rice, diced tomatoes and dry cereals. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News)

So she's getting ready to help them in other ways, "referring them to not only our services but also mental health resources on campus… because a lot of times, when students have financial problems, it also affects their mental health."

'Let us help you'

Back at the food bank, Kidd is expecting a busy start to the semester.

"We could go up as high as 250 to 280 students in the month of September," she said.

It's an expensive month for people.— Sister Sue Kidd

"They're paying tuition, they're buying books when they come, they're often having to have a down payment for accommodation. It's an expensive month for people."

This year, members of the New Student Orientation team are stepping up to ensure the food bank has what it needs, starting with an event on Saturday, Sept. 4 at 10 a.m.

"We're doing a 4K Fun Run Walk, which will start in the parking lot C of the UPEI campus. We're accepting non-perishable food items as an entry fee," said Inara Bhalesha, an orientation co-ordinator. 

"A lot of students are struggling with the high prices of food, rising inflation. What better resource than to collect some items for the food bank?"

UPEI New Student Orientation co-ordinators Inara Bhalesha and Nathan Lacroix have organized a 4k Fun Run Walk to collect non-perishable food items for students who need them. (Ryan McKellop/CBC News)

In addition to that, Bhalesha said the team is also planning a door-to-door food drive on Thursday, Sept. 8.

"The last two years have been pretty hard on students," said another New Student Orientation co-ordinator, Nathan Lacroix. "We've both been students, we've both been in that position, and we both know how hard it is in regards to food stability." 

And that support is welcomed, said Kidd.

"There is no need for a student at UPEI to be hungry. I think the school is about their academic success … but if you're hungry, you can't do that," said Kidd.

"Whether you're an athlete, whether you're an international student, [or] a domestic student who is moving out of home for the first time — let us help you."

With files from Ryan McKellop