The Breakfast Club is more than just a classic '80s movie. For over 93,000 children in Canada, breakfast clubs are the only means of getting a filling and nutritious morning meal.
But the problem of student hunger isn’t only felt at the elementary school level. What happens to university students who are unable to afford food once the support of breakfast clubs ends?
Western University Students' Council's Food Support Services works to address this issue of student hunger, which is often an overlooked and underreported issue on campus.
Michael Hong, coordinator of Western’s Food Support Services, says the issue is overlooked due to the general misconception that students attending post-secondary education institutions are a privileged group. In reality, the average Canadian student graduates with $27,000 of debt and may struggle to afford things other than tuition such as rent, textbooks and food.
One of the key services WFSS provides is a free and anonymous on-campus food bank. The service, which is supported by the University Students’ Council, builds customized food hampers for undergraduate students struggling to afford food. Students who need a hamper fill out a Google Doc available on the WFSS Facebook page where they have a chance to request specific items or indicate any dietary restrictions.
“What’s nice about our service is that it’s not generic hampers; [the hampers] are made per the students’ request,” says Allie Adamo, USC student programs officer. "We also provide things like feminine hygiene products, diapers, toilet paper and life necessities."
After WFSS volunteers assemble these customized hampers, they are left for students to pick up at specific locations in the UCC — the final step of the anonymous process.
“I think that the stigma around not being able to afford food or going to a food bank isn’t something that Western and London are exempt from,” Adamo says. "The confidentiality and anonymous piece is the reason why our services are used so frequently by some students."
In recent years, Western has seen an increase in use of food bank services as costs of being a student continue to rise and WFSS works to increase awareness about the availability of the service.
“In 2013-14, there were 212 hampers that were filled," Hong says. "In 2014-15, there were 230 hampers filled. This September, I believe we had 24 hampers filled.”
If 230 hampers doesn't seem like a huge number, imagine that number translated into an entire lecture hall filled with undergraduate students in need of a food bank.
While Meal Exchange Canada indicates that 3.2 per cent of Canadian students report using local food banks (not on campus), this statistic likely reflects a lower number than the reality due to underreporting.
“One of the big issues is that [student hunger] is so underreported that nobody knows how to get help,” Hong explains. “There’s a lack of awareness that causes [students] not to know about the issue and look at [students] as a population that needs help.”
Through hosting events to raise awareness about student hunger and methods of budgeting and healthy cooking, WFSS hopes to help increase food security for students.
In conjunction with FRESH and Health promotions, WFSS will give a savory crepe-cooking demo on Nov. 9 at 5 p.m. in front of Centre Spot in the UCC.