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More students are accessing Ryerson’s Good Food Centre compared to 2018
About 60 students a week are grabbing groceries at Ryerson’s Good Food Centre — nearly a 20 per cent increase compared to this time last year.
In the wake of rising food costs, Ryerson’s food bank helps students on a budget, Good Food Centre co-ordinator Hamoor Gosal said. It is the only on campus food bank available that can provide Ryerson students with a week’s worth of produce, including staples like milk, eggs, vegetables, fruits, juices, bagged pasta and oil.
The influx of students, according to Gosal, is due to OSAP funding cuts. Gosal said he’s noticed a majority of students being referred from the OSAP office.
Earlier this year, Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s Conservative government announced tuition cuts by 10 per cent for the 2019-2020 school year, but also tightened access to OSAP grants.
“When we sign up each student we ask them how they heard of us, and more than half of them are bringing up the OSAP cuts. We see a direct link to the cuts by just talking to our members,” Gosal said.
Food prices are projected to rise between 1.5 to 3.5 per cent this year, with a family of four predicted to spend $12,157, which is $411 more than last year, according to Canada’s Food Price Report.
An international student who uses Ryerson’s food bank said they already have to pay “around $21,000 in tuition,” in addition to groceries and rent. The student, who asked to remain anonymous, added: “Some of my friends go home to get food from their family, but that’s not an option for me.”
Although there has been an increase in students using the food bank, there is still a stigma surrounding food insecurity, Gosal said.
“A lot of students do not turn to food banks because of embarrassment, so normalizing and educating individuals on food insecurity would make a huge difference,” Gosal added.
Volunteers at the food bank say they try to create an accepting space for students, so they don’t feel alone in their situation.
“We’re not gawking at people when they pick their food,” said Good Food Centre volunteer Berin Khalil. “A lot of these people that come here say that they’ve had bad experiences at food banks. We try not to make it feel like that sort of environment.”
In accordance with the new Student Choice Initiative imposed by the provincial government, the Ryerson Students’ Union asked students in September via a RAMSS poll whether they wanted to “opt out” of equity services, one of which is the food bank.
Depending how many students choose to opt out, the food bank’s budget may be affected. At this time, every student contributes $2.50 of their tuition to the centre.
“A lot of our budget comes from the RSU and if a lot of students opted out, we don’t know whether or not a portion of our budget will be taken and distributed to other centres,” Gosal said.
Results of the Student Choice Initiative have not been released yet. The food bank is still awaiting its budget for the 2019-2020 school year, which Gosal said is now overdue.
For now, Gosal said he hopes students will be mindful of their peers, even if they don’t personally struggle with food insecurity.
“Some people don’t have money for groceries so it isn’t just opting in for yourself,” Gosal said. ”It’s being mindful of the Ryerson community as a whole, even if you yourself might not benefit from these services.”