A misconception about how Canadian food banks operate, combined with misleading information on social media, has led to a surge in use among international students of the London Food Bank and others in Canada.
London Food Bank co-chief executive Glen Pearson said his staff were already dealing with a 43 per cent increase in visits at the start of this school year when they began to notice an increase in food requests from education students post-secondary.
Student demand “began to multiply”
The London Food Bank requires users to show identification and staff noticed that many were international students from Fanshawe College in London.
“The numbers started increasing rapidly,” Pearson said. “Our staff said they’re coming in such large quantities and we’re going to have to do something about it. This caused some concern about whether we would have enough supply or not.”
Students have always been a legitimate part of his visits, he said. Like many Canadians, more and more students are facing higher costs on basics like housing and food.
It’s not exclusive to London
However, staff soon realized that the increase in visits was partly due to social media posts, Pearson said.
A YouTube post in Malayalam, a language spoken in southern India, suggested that food banks in Canada could provide visitors with a regular supply of free food, rather than a resource used in emergencies.
“We all felt [demand] keep growing. It wasn’t unique to London,” Pearson said.
A food bank in Brampton had to close its doors to international students this week, saying students were creating demand the food bank couldn’t meet.
The situation in London prompted a call to the Fanshawe College administration and an email was soon sent to all students, clarifying the role of food banks. Pearson said once the students were informed about how food banks work, they apologized.
John Riddell of the Fanshawe Students’ Union said they have worked to “counter” the misinformation students were seeing about food banks, which he said did not come from FSU or the university.
Legitimate need among students remains high
“While there may be a misunderstanding on the part of students about what the food bank’s resources are, we certainly know that there are a good number of students who need legitimate support,” he said.
Fanshawe runs a food bank for students called The Sharing Shop. Allows students in need to get a grocery gift card several times a year. Students can obtain a referral from a campus learning advisor.
Western’s University Student Council (USC) also operates a food bank. Provides food baskets for students who demonstrate a need through an online request form.
USC used to allow students to show up in person for food, but Vice President of Student Services Bianca Gouveia said those in-person visits were suspended in September. They have now switched to an online application form to better manage applications.
And while Gouveia hasn’t heard of Western students showing up to the London food bank en masse, he said the need at the campus food bank remains high.
“We are close to 600 basket requests [so far this year]” he said. “We’ve definitely continued to see an increase. “Students are feeling pressure on all fronts because of the cost of living.”