Long lines at the AMS Food Bank have raised concerns about increasing food insecurity at UBC.
From May 2021 to October 14, 2021, the number of visits skyrocketed to 2,420, according to Student Services Manager Mitchell Prost.
At a recent AMS Council meeting, Prost stated that the AMS is bringing on more volunteers to meet the growing demand. As to why the demand has jumped so significantly recently, Prost credited the COVID-19 pandemic and a return to campus.
“I really do think it’s because we have everyone coming back. There’s a lot more people on campus and when there’s more people, there’s a lot more folks in need. COVID-19 has impacted everyone and we really see those impacts in the ability to afford basic necessities like food,” he said.
Food insecurity refers to “inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints” according to the UBC Food Insecurity Initiative. Compared to the Canadian household average of 8.8 per cent, food insecurity affects 35–40 per cent of post-secondary students. In Vancouver especially, an area with a higher-than-average cost of living, students have felt the pressure, worsened by COVID-19 and an increase in grocery and food costs Canada wide.
Since its inception in 1996, the AMS Food Bank has been mandated as emergency relief for students. However, given the rise in demand, the Food Bank is currently allowing students to access its services up to 16 times a term.
Prost said this has strained the Food Bank. He said that the AMS Food Bank is continually at capacity and he would like to see more sustainable long-term adjustments toward food security for students.
The best way to accomplish this goal, said Prost, is through partnership and collaboration.
“For the time being, the best way is by sitting on these different university groups and committees and really pushing the university and working with the university to create new initiatives,” he said.
Though the Food Bank receives a stipend from the UBC President’s Office, it operates primarily on donations.
The university recently allocated $65,000 to the AMS Food Bank and has implemented new projects through its Food Security Initiative.
Food Security Program Manager Sara Kozicky said the initiative recently launched the Meal Donation Program, initiated this month with a budget of $480,000, and the Digital Food Hub, a website launching in November 2021. Kozicky said the latter intends to increase awareness and accessibility around food options.
“We really want to look at alleviating immediate pressures of food insecurity through dignified solutions,” she said.
Though the demand for emergency relief has grown steadily, UBC has set a goal of reducing food insecurity at UBC 50 per cent by 2025. Kozicky acknowledges this goal is bold but stressed that a strong stance is needed to tackle such an important issue.
“It is a bold target and a bold goal. I think it really corresponds to how UBC wants to tackle and address and promote food security within our institution and how seriously we take this complex problem.”
Overall, Prost would like to see food insecurity talked about more openly in order to reduce the stigma and allow for students to access the services they need.
“I think the one thing that we can really do is be more open about conversations about food security, and have it be more normalized as a collective community issue that we’re trying to tackle as a community.”