In September 2018, the Peer Resource & Leadership Centre (PRLC) reopened the UFV-SUS food bank. The space, located on the Student Union Building’s (SUB) third floor, through a glass door with mountainscape stenciling, was formerly operated as a food bank by the Student Union Society (SUS).
It had been evident to the PRLC that there was a need. Just how prevalent food insecurity is wasn’t anticipated. Then, on Sept. 5, the first food hamper was given out by Ashley Ward-Hall, coordinator for the PRLC.
“We knew that food insecurity was an issue,” Ward-Hall said. “Anytime we did events with free food, people would jump all over it.”
At free food events, according to Ward-Hall, students would make remarks like that being the only meal they’d eat that day.
The PRLC operates out of the north-east corner space on the first floor of the SUB, running the Student Life lounge and kitchen. The centre’s focus is to provide students with one-on-one support, health and wellness programming, and a welcoming environment. The food bank itself got started with $2,500 that Student Life received for the UFV Exceptional Teamwork Award, which was donated to the food bank, and matched by two other departments for $7,500 in seed funds. That was followed by a big Costco run.
Ward-Hall said she’s been collecting usage data since the food bank opening eight months ago. Unfortunately, no previous data was provided by the SUS.
“Three-quarters are Abbotsford people, a quarter are Chilliwack,” Ward-Hall said. “We collect gender, age, if you’ve got dependents, student status, employment status, marital status — that kind of stuff.”
Here’s a breakdown of some of the data:
From September 2018 to the end of February 2019, 307 food hampers were requested by UFV students — 179 individual clients with 58 per cent of those being one-time users. Of these, 157 gave their demographic information; something they’re not obligated to do to receive a hamper.
Full-time students represent 82 per cent of users, 17 per cent are part-time students, and 65 per cent of all were in their first year. Of the ethnicities represented, the three most common are South Asian (34 per cent), European (31 per cent), and Aboriginal (18 per cent). In the 2015/16 fiscal year, there were 689 students who self-identified as Aboriginal at UFV; these students made up 4.8 per cent of the student body.
Another noteworthy group of overrepresented food bank users are international students, who make up 11.5 per cent of UFV students but 40 per cent of food bank users. Despite apparently higher-than-average levels of food insecurity, in order to register as international students, applicants must prove to the Candian government their ability to afford a Candian education and associated living expenses. According to immigration.ca, $10,000, plus tuition, is required for a 12-month period of schooling.
Executive director of UFV International, Dave McGuire said over email: “In terms of verifying financial ability, this tuition payment part of the process involves UFV. The other (living expenses) part is the domain of the Canadian government.”
A Vancouver Sun article titled “How international students are filling funding shortfalls” explains that B.C. universities and colleges have turned to relying on international student funding, which is typically three to four times greater than domestic, to make up for declining government funding. According to the B.C. Federation of Students, government grants provided 67 per cent of post-secondary operating funds in 2000, but just 45 per cent by 2015.
At UFV, international tuition for a two-semester year is $17,160, while domestic students will pay $4,873.20 for 10 classes, according to the UFV website. UFV’s international enrollment has increased 87 per cent since 2012, according to the university’s accountability report. Revenue generated from international students has more than doubled since 2010.
“It is not difficult to see why both provincial and federal governments have put significant efforts into drawing international students,” Stuart Neatby and Bala Yogesh wrote for the Vancouver Sun. “They contribute more than $3.5 billion to B.C.’s economy annually — more than industries such as forestry, pulp and paper, and fishing.”
All that comes from over 130,000 international — one in five — students in B.C.
“As mentioned … the Government of Canada assesses whether or not they feel that a study permit applicant has the means to afford the other costs associated with studying in Canada.”
But all of this raises the question, is the government of Canada adequately assessing applicant’s financial situations?
“Still, like domestics students, international students can periodically run into financial difficulty,” McGuire said. “However, when it comes to many of UFV’s services, a UFV student is a UFV student. There’s the food bank and there’s the ability to access emergency funding.”
Unfortunately, not enough UFV-specific data exists to uncover the nuances of food insecurity on campus. Director of Student Life, Kyle Baillie said he wants to tackle the root of the problem.
“There’s a couple other theories of course,” Baillie said. “But really the issue is if people are hungry, they’re not able to learn at their optimum. So how do we work to solve that?”
Responding to these issues, a food insecurity committee, spearheaded by Baillie, was created. The committee, very much an action-oriented task group, Baillie said, meets once a month to organize programs that could positively impact students’ access to food. Essentially, the committee is trying to figure out what’s going on and what can be done. One of these initiatives will be a campus-wide study, based off of the Hungry for Knowledge survey, which looked to assess the prevalence of student food insecurity across five Canadian universities in 2016. Baillie said they’ll look to recreate the study here at UFV and that the committee is currently working through research ethics approval.
“We want to figure out what exactly our scope is and how big of a problem we have on campus,” Baillie said. “Then, you know, the next logical question is, ‘What’s the impact?’ There’s a bigger dataset, and a bigger question to be asked here. And that’s what we’re trying to do.”
According to the study, which surveyed students at Brock University, Dalhousie University, Lakehead University, Ryerson University, and the University of Calgary, nearly two in five students were found to have experienced some level of food insecurity.
“Our findings suggest that food insecurity is a serious issue for post-secondary students in Canada,” the report concludes. Most students facing food access issues were moderately food insecure; however, 8.3 per cent experienced “severe food insecurity.”
“We have a very unique student population, as you know, so we’re looking at doing that survey to try and get a better idea of what the bigger issues of food insecurity are,” said Ward-Hall.
Baillie said the committee is looking to interdisciplinary, inter-group solutions. The food bank is just a part of the larger food insecurity strategy. Another program in the works is a community garden, which would involve UFV Sustainability and the biology department with a pollinator garden to support local bee populations. Baillie said they’re also working with the Indigenous Student Centre to identify indigenous herbs, and even the English department to create a Shakespeare garden.
“It’s one of those things, like, let’s just bring everybody who was interested in and we’ll build from there,” Baillie said.
The committee is also working on a cooking program, free food event listings, and community dinners — an example being last Thanksgiving’s turkey dinner, which was offered for a toonie, or by donation. Free food events for students, however, like the turkey dinner, have been barred from the SUB because of concerns from the SUS about profit losses to Fair Grounds café.
“They haven’t provided data to support this claim, but as this issue was clearly important to the UFV/SUS relationship, we have honoured it,” Baillie said. “Student Life is working with student groups to find other spaces on campus to host their events as we know these events are important to students who struggle with food insecurity.”
Regarding the SUS policy on free food events, president of SUS, Gurvir Gill, said in an email: “I would encourage any students that wish to include food at their events to come to speak to myself or our staff. We have had students bring in food to events in the past. SUS loves to work with our membership and support them to the best of our abilities to ensure their events run smoothly.”
The UFV-SUS food bank is currently working with Abbotsford Community Services and the Abbotsford Food Bank to establish a partnership as a satellite location. This would see the Abby Food Bank supplying UFV with food, and UFV operating as a for-students branch of the Abby Food Bank.
“Based on how busy we’ve been since it started, it’s definitely a service that needs to exist on campus and probably be better advertised as well as made bigger,” Ward-Hall said.
Hopefully after the summer, and a year of food bank operation, Ward-Hall said, they’ll have a better understanding of campus food insecurity. Those who have received hampers from the food bank, are thankful. Ward-Hall said she has received many thanks for the service.