Eight months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the AMS Food Bank has continued to see higher usage than normal.
Back in April, AMS Food Bank coordinator Cali Schnarr said that while the food bank usually saw an average of 18.5 clients per day, the number had increased to 20 to 25 clients per day. That trend has persisted throughout the summer and into the fall.
“This summer, we have had 504 visits which is an increase of almost 60 per cent from last summer, when we saw 320,” said Schnarr. “We don’t currently have the data for the fall term … but I can say that we are seeing a big increase in numbers on track with what we were seeing in the summer.”
Many factors have contributed to the increased usage and food insecurity. One factor, Schnarr pointed out, was the loss of summer income for students. Many students, working in all disciplines, lost their jobs due to COVID-19.
“I think that dwindling in savings … has really impacted a lot of students.”
Schnarr predicted that over the year and even beyond, there might be higher usage at the food bank and more food insecurity, due to lost income from the pandemic.
Sara Kozicky, Food Insecurity Project Manager at UBC Wellbeing, echoed Schnarr’s point.
“Work has been slowed down or cancelled completely, so that leaves people with quite a gap to fill their bank accounts, and especially if they were already put on the edge of being food insecure.”
This summer, many students were able to receive federal and provincial support through benefits such as CERB and CESB, Kozicky noted. In April of this year, UBC President Santa Ono also implemented the President’s Emergency Student Fund to provide “temporary financial relief” to students in light of the pandemic. Currently, students may be eligible for federal support through the Employment Insurance (EI) and if not, the Canadian Recovery Benefit (CRB).
While COVID-19 exacerbated the problem, Schnarr said that even before the pandemic, usage of the food bank was steadily increasing. In the 2018 fiscal year, Scnharr said the food bank had around 960 visits. In the 2019 fiscal year, ending in April, the food bank had 1513 visits, a 58 per cent increase from the previous year.
“We had projected to hit around 1350, so I’m assuming that those extra 150 visits or so are probably due to COVID … but the service alone is getting increased usage in general,” Schnarr said.
With the larger issue of food insecurity in mind, Kozicky emphasized that in order to address the problem, one has to “listen to the needs of the community” and “stay flexible in the current conditions.”
“We do not want to see students struggling and food insecure. That is an injustice.”
With the current food demand, the AMS Food Bank has extended their hours on Mondays and Thursday from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. Additionally, the food bank has started to pre-fill their bags of supplies to keep both staff and clients safe.
“It’s been a collective effort,” said Schnarr.
Several other strategies taken by the AMS Food Bank included hiring another staff member to manage the volunteers and maintaining community relations with donors.
“We also want to think about what is causing these people to walk through our doors in the first place and how can we address that in a more upstream approach,” said Scharr.
While the AMS Food Bank is adjusting to the food demand, UBC Wellbeing is hosting a virtual dialogue panel, Promoting Food Security in Higher Education, on November 4.
“[That event] is just the start,” Kozicky said. “One university cannot solve it. One person cannot solve it. We need to create a coalition around these concerns — we are powerful together.”