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P.E.I. food banks stocking up before cash-strapped students come back to class

'The number of students that use the food bank continues to rise,' says Upper Room CEO Mike MacDonald. (Tony Davis/CBC - image credit)
'The number of students that use the food bank continues to rise,' says Upper Room CEO Mike MacDonald. (Tony Davis/CBC - image credit)

Food banks on Prince Edward Island are preparing for a big spike in demand as thousands of students return to classrooms this fall.

Sister Susan Kidd runs the University of Prince Edward Island Chaplaincy Centre, where the Charlottetown campus's food bank is located, and she says more post-secondary students are in need than in previous years.

"It's higher every year. Every month is practically higher," Kidd said.

"My expectation is [that] again in September, the numbers will increase. They were increased, probably, by 50 per cent this summer compared to last summer."

Susan Kidd runs the food bank at the University of Prince Edward Island.
Susan Kidd runs the food bank at the University of Prince Edward Island.

Sister Susan Kidd says UPEI's food bank could see 100 students per week when classes are back in session. (Tony Davis/CBC)

The food bank takes food and financial donations in order to keep its shelves stocked, and is open to students Wednesday afternoons between 2 and 6 p.m.

With the money from financial donations, a student goes grocery shopping to stock up the food bank. Kidd says the food bank spends roughly $1,000 a week on groceries and the demand is rising.

From May to the end of August, more than 900 students accessed the food bank, up from roughly 600 students last summer.

Kidd said they could see 100 students per week when school is back in session, as students pay for essentials like tuition, first and last month's rent, books, supplies and more.

'It just keeps getting busier and busier'

Mike MacDonald, the CEO of the Upper Room Food Bank in Charlottetown, said he's seen a 26 per cent increase over last year.

He said the new school year marks "the start to our busy season," driving up demand at food banks across the province.

It's becoming more of a challenge for us too. We'd love to be able to offer more fresh fruit and things like that, but it's very expensive. — Murray MacInnis

"It just keeps getting busier and busier, right until next spring," he said.

"We do know that it's a difficult time not only for people coming to the food bank, but donors have less money, disposable money, to donate. We don't have high expectations, but we are hoping that if individuals are hoping to give, that they do consider their local food banks."

Looking at the rate of inflation and the high cost of gas and home heating, MacDonald said he doesn't anticipate the demand going down anytime soon — especially for students who are already on a tight budget.

"The number of students that use the food bank continues to rise," he said. "Education is expensive. They're certainly struggling with their food, and their rent and other things. We certainly do see students coming into the food bank."

Food bank, breakfast program at Holland College

Like UPEI, Holland College has its own food bank and is seeing more students requiring meals. The institution has even launched a breakfast program to help address the growing problem of food insecurity on campus.

"The dollar is spread much more thinly for people now and so they're finding it hard not only to find enough food, but often it's having quality food," said Murray MacInnis, Holland College's director of student wellbeing, accessibility and support.

Murray MacInnis at Holland College on Prince Edward Island.
Murray MacInnis at Holland College on Prince Edward Island.

Murray MacInnis says Holland College is preparing for an influx of students accessing the food bank. (Tony Davis/CBC)

"It's becoming more of a challenge for us too. We'd love to be able to offer more fresh fruit and things like that, but it's very expensive."

For students who want to access the food bank at Holland College, it's available at the Student Success Area. They're limited to taking only a few items, and food shelves are restocked every day, MacInnis said.