Food centres run by U of T’s three undergraduate student unions have seen increased demand for their services this academic year from students. This has encouraged student unions on all three campuses to extend their food centre operating hours, hire more staff members, and increase orders from suppliers.
According to the “Who’s Hungry Report 2022” by Daily Bread Food Bank and North York Harvest, food banks across Toronto saw a record of 1.68 million visits from April 2021 to March 2022, representing a 16 per cent increase from the previous year’s 1.45 million visits.
SCSU Food Centre
One of Daily Bread’s 126 member agencies is the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) Food Centre. “The demand for the Food Centre has increased paramountly since the summer,” said Carlos Arturo Paez Gonzalez — one of the centre’s coordinators — in an interview with The Varsity. According to the “Who’s Hungry Report 2022,” Scarborough saw a 29 per cent increase in food bank use from April 2021 to March 2022, the highest percentage increase out of all the districts in Toronto.
Gonzalez said that the SCSU Food Centre sees 200 visits a week. To meet this increased demand, the SCSU has almost tripled its orders from Daily Bread since the summer, increased its weekly grocery pickups to two times a week — on Mondays and Fridays — and, in January, hired two more Food Centre coordinators. Riddhi Danani — one of the Food Centre coordinators — told The Varsity that around 80 to 100 volunteers assist the centre weekly. The Food Centre also hosts cooking workshops throughout the year.
Gonzalez said that the Food Centre can be “such a life-changer” for people facing difficult circumstances. Last year, he depended on the centre for food after his family’s main financial provider passed away. “The Food Centre was the reason that I was fed every day,” he said.
The SCSU Food Centre is located in SL 210-B at the Student Centre and is open from 1:00–5:00 pm on grocery pickup dates. Each user may only sign up for one pickup a week.
Danani said that slots for grocery pickups fill up quickly. She suggested that people sign up for early timeslots, noting that “you get the best items in the first two hours.”
SCSU Vice-President Operations Mathooshan Manoharan encourages students to volunteer with the centre, and in an interview with The Varsity, said that the centre accepts financial and food-related donations.
UTMSU Food Centre
In an interview with The Varsity, University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) Vice-President Equity Reagan Roopnarine noted that the UTMSU Food Centre has seen a 600 per cent increase in visits compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Roopnarine said that when she joined the equity team years ago, only around 12 people visited the centre every week. “Last week, we had 160 orders,” said Roopnarine.
Jazmmeyn Barnett — a second-year biology student and regular patron of the UTMSU Food Centre — highlighted that the centre supports students’ mental and financial stability. “Dealing with school is hard enough, and then also being hungry… it affects my studying… it’s really stressful,” she told The Varsity. Now, she uses the centre to get food items, especially when her finances are “running tight.”
Even though the centre caters to those who face food insecurity, Roopnarine emphasized that the UTMSU does not ask users for proof or documentation. “We trust your word,” she said. Students who wish to get groceries from the UTMSU Food Centre must fill in a pick-up form by Sunday each week.
UTSU Food Bank
As of November 2022, 140 students had registered with the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Food Bank, a 100 per cent increase compared to 2021. The UTSU offers food bank services in room 136 in the Student Commons building every Friday from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm. To access its services, students must register for slots, which are made available every Wednesday between 9:00–10:00 am.
The UTSU also launched a food rescue program on March 6, which aims to provide prepared frozen food to U of T students in need. It runs on a first-come-first-serve basis every Monday and Tuesday from 12:00–1:30 pm at the food bank.
Increased food bank use across Toronto
The 2022 “Who’s Hungry” report determined that increased rates of precarious employment, fewer social assistance programs, lack of affordable housing, and increased cost of living increased food insecurity and food bank use.
Inflation rates for food remain high in Canada. While Canada’s overall annual inflation rate sat at 5.2 per cent in February, the price of grocery food increased 10.6 per cent from last year, according to a Statistics Canada report.
The UTSU did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.