Rising cost of living in Victoria hitting students and Food Bank hard
On delivery days, one of the hallways in the basement of the Student Union Building fills with students awaiting their appointment with the University of Victoria Students’ Society’s (UVSS) Food Bank and Free Store. Funded by student fees and donations, the program supplies students with hampers of fresh food, non-perishables, and other essential items.
While the Food Bank is often busy through the fall and winter semesters, the summer months usually bring a lull in demand and fewer new students. However, officers of the Food Bank say that this summer demand for their services is staying high.
“I’ve been [working] here for a couple years and demand usually does decrease in the summer,” said Kishal Scholz, one of the three officers of the Food Bank. “Usually there are still people coming but it is quite a bit less than during the school year. But this year there has been no decrease at all.”
According to Statistics Canada, Canadians spent 9.7 per cent more on food this April than in April 2021 — which is the largest surge since 1981. This rise in the cost of food country-wide has been felt both by UVic students and the UVSS Food Bank itself, especially in light of the soaring rental rates in Victoria which can eat up large portions of student budgets.
“With the rise in food cost and housing, definitely more people are searching for ways they can afford food,” said Food Bank Officer Crystal Ni, who is a biochemistry student at UVic.
The UVSS Food Bank is open exclusively to current students and their families. $2.25 of full-time undergraduate student fees, $1.12 of part-time undergraduate student fees, and $1.90 from graduate student fees go to the program each semester. The officers, along with the help of over 40 volunteers, coordinate the pick up schedule for the hamper program, which they say garners around 330–380 students per week this summer.
The hamper program gives students the opportunity to select for themselves the items they need and can include fresh produce, milk and non-dairy options, eggs, bread, canned foods as well as other necessities like household and menstrual products. Any UVic student can schedule a weekly hamper pick up and can be allotted a larger portion if they are supporting a family.
The Food Bank officers said the steady demand they are seeing points to what students are facing. According to their records, 80 per cent of the people who use the Food Bank services are international students, who face higher tuition rates among other expenses, while 40 per cent are graduate students. They say many are also picking up food for their families.
“The rising cost of food has affected, obviously, students, but also us because we order a lot of this food,” said Scholz. “It has been really noticeable how much the price of food has been jumping up, not gradually as it usually does. Things have gotten a lot more expensive. I think in the long term for us it will limit us and what we can order.”
One of the officers, Atanu Kundu first found out about the Food Bank when he used their services near the beginning of the pandemic.
“I was going through a tough financial situation and … I was looking for some support and that’s where I came to know about the Food Bank and got the help I needed to stand up on my feet,” said Kundu, who is also a biochemistry student. “Then slowly I decided that I wanted to give back to the Food Bank.”
Kundu said that the coordinators try to spend more time with new users of the Food Bank to hopefully encourage them to come back and continue using the services if they need them.
“We have a motto at the food bank that we do not judge people,” he said.
“We encourage everyone to get that extra push they need to have a really healthy and happy life because if they don’t get the help, that is going to translate into their mental health, that is going to translate into their academic life.”
Scholz said that she worries about the surging costs of food in Victoria and is advocating for more support for the program.
“We are a really undervalued yet critical service and we really need the support of UVic and the community. We are highly in demand, and I don’t know what is more important than a food bank.”
UVic students looking to volunteer or use the Food Bank and Free Store can sign up on the UVSS Food Bank website. Donations are also welcome and drop offs can be scheduled with the officers at firstname.lastname@example.org.