Being a student is stressful enough as it is, having to balance schooling, finances and a social life. As students are figuring out their busy schedules to begin the new semester, the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union (USSU) Food Centre at the University of Saskatchewan is also preparing for another busy year.
“For emergency hampers, we get about 20 to 30 per month,” Mark Tan, USSU Food Centre co-ordinator, said.
The food centre operates through monetary and food donations. It offers emergency hampers from the Saskatoon Food Bank; the centre also runs a fresh fruit and vegetable market three days a week at the student union.
“If they want something for the next two days, three days, they can come and pick up a couple things that will help them for that period of time that they need it,” Tan said.
A recent study at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) shows students are also balancing the uncertainty of where and when their next meal will be; 40 per cent of students are experiencing some form of food insecurity.
“It’s a much more diverse group of students coming from the social-economic spectrum, people from lower income up to very high income families,” Rachel Engler-Stringer, an associate professor at the U of S department of health and epidemiology, and publisher of the study, said.
“The (students) who are out partying, those aren’t the ones who are food insecure, it’s the students we don’t necessarily see.”
Of that 40 per cent, 11 per cent are worried about running out of money and their ability to afford food; 21 per cent are sacrificing quality of food or skipping meals entirely, and just under eight per cent are considered severe: skipping entire days without a meal.
“We also found that a very small percentage of them actually accessed the on-campus food bank, and I think the reason for that is partially about the stigma,” Enlger-Stringer, said.
Tan believes that statement is true.
“As a student, I think a lot of them feel that it’s not in their place to come in for food,” Tan said.
“Even if it’s just a week, you’re waiting for your paycheque or you’re waiting for your student loan; those are the kind of emergency situations we can help.”
The centre is taking steps to remove the stigma while promoting the work they do, however they’re also working to make sure the service is being used by those who really need it.
“This is not free food, it’s an emergency service,” Tan said.
For longer term emergencies, the food centre directs students to crisis aid for grants and loans. In 2016-17, the U of S crisis aid co-ordinator distributed $244,000 through emergency grants and loans to students, as well as $13,000 in grocery cards.
The study addresses the food centre saying it’s only part of the solution and more needs to be done to address the cost of living and tuition.
“If we’re going to live in a society that requires a post-secondary education of some sort for you to get a decent job,” Engler-Stringer, said.
“We shouldn’t be putting students in a situation where they’re damaging their health in order to be able to participate in that.”