A local students’ association has seen significant increase in demand at their food bank, as the past year’s inflation has stretched some students’ budgets too thin.
Chloe Polos, an administrative assistant with Red River College Polytechnic’s Students’ Association (RRCSA), has only been at her job since summer 2022 — but in that time, she’s noticed more and more students seeking help.
“It’s either they’re going to pay their bills, or they’re going to eat,” the recent RRC Polytech grad said.
Polos helps run the food bank at the Notre Dame Avenue location. The portable trailer at the edge of campus houses canned goods, two fridges, and two deep freezers of food from Harvest Manitoba and private donors. Students sign up in advance for a monthly hamper, and can come to the food bank for items here and there.
“It’s a good in-between between Harvest dates,” Polos said.
As food prices have risen across the country, students — who juggle tuition and living expenses with limited time to work — have been turning to food banks like the RRCSA’s more often.
From September to December 2021, the RRCSA’s Norte Dame food bank gave hampers to 287 students and their families. Over the same time period in 2022, that number increased to 408, an increase of 42.2 per cent.
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And Polos expects this semester’s number to be even higher.
“I know that it’s going to be rising year by year,” she said. “That’s what I honestly predict.”
Part of that rise could be attributed to the food bank recently expanding their operations, taking on more students for hamper pick-up. But demand has increased so much, the RRCSA is already allocating more money to support the food bank in their next budget.
It’s something other universities and colleges have experienced, too. Jaron Rykiss, president of the University of Mantioba Students’ Union says he regularly hears from students how difficult it is to make ends meet.
“The price of housing continues to rise, which is causing issues for students,” Rykiss said, adding that international students, who pay thousands more in tuition than Canadian ones, are under particular pressure.
He’d like to see more investment in post-secondary supports in every area, from housing to tuition to food.
“If we are looking to solve an inflationary crisis, the best way to do that is provide money to the people that are best supported by that money,” he said.
Rising demand at food banks, school-affiliated or not, has been seen across the country recently. Food bank use at Harvest Manitoba, the province’s largest food bank, has doubled since 2019. About 1 in 4 people who access food through the charity are employed.
Harvest Manitoba supports the RRCSA’s food bank, sending a monthly vanload of food to the campus for distribution. So far, Polos says everyone who has come seeking something to eat has been able to get something.
But as demand continues to rise, she wonders what the future looks like for students at the college.
“If things progress, and continue the way they have been, then yeah, we would be worried,” Polos said.
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