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Students face tough choice; pay tuition, rent or food?

Julie Arounlasy

LIFE REPORTER

Kraft Dinner and instant ramen noodles seem to be the new diet among college and university students.

Jokes aside, a new survey shows students not eating enough is a real issue today.

Hungry for Knowledge, a report conducted by the non-profit organization Meal Exchange, who seek to end hunger in Canada, found about 40 per cent of Canadian students were considered “food insecure”.

This result of the online survey of 4,500 students at eight Canadian universities means that nearly half have limited access to food because of other expenses such as tuition and rent.

Hungry for Knowledge researcher Drew Silverthorn said college and university administrators need to have a better understanding of students’ financial struggles, especially how it’s a more common ongoing struggle for students from low income families, indigenous students, and racialized students.

“Ultimately this issue is going to affect student’s grades, their ability to participate in campus life, and participate in projects that could end up leading them to jobs or future career opportunities,” he said.

With the rising costs of tuition and rent in Ontario cities, students are forced to choose between basic necessities like their shelter, education and eating enough.

“It’s disgusting having to choose tuition and rent over food as a student and we shouldn’t have to if we are spending so much money to go to school already,” Humber college culinary student Nick Van Amstel said.

Humber’s Emergency Food Bank was replaced last year by the Financial Relief Program.

IGNITE president Ahmed Tahir said the new program is more flexible than the Emergency Food Bank and is better able to deal with more complex financial needs of students.

The Financial Relief program offers bursaries aimed at helping students in emergency financial situations such as being kicked out of home or physical and health issues.

However, Humber students are not aware of this program and are struggling with finding resources to help them with affording basic necessities like food.

“My friends and I have never heard of this program,” Humber culinary student Isabella Zeeb said. “Students should know when the school switches important programs like that.”

Silverthorn said Meal Exchange hears a lot about how students don’t know these programs exist in their schools and that the programs are poorly advertised.

“I do think it was a good decision for Humber to replace the food bank with a program where the money could be spent on anything that students are struggling with, but it does sound like it’s too bad that it wasn’t advertised more,” he said.

Meal Exchange advocates for more college and university campuses to do their own research so schools can have a better understanding of what the issues are on their campus.

Silverthorn said he found different campuses had different rates of food insecurity and that might be for different reasons like expensive housing or transportation.

“Some students didn’t even know they were food insecure until they took our survey. Doing your own research is a good starting point with helping student’s financial needs because it raises awareness of the issue in themselves as well,” he said.

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