Food insecurity among post-secondary students is a growing problem, impacting nearly every aspect of a students’ life, including academic performance, physical health, mental health, and social life.
“It’s like this looming heaviness, or … think of it like a backpack that’s totally full and so heavy. You have the demands and you’re trying to perform and you’re trying to learn, and you kind of have that so to speak on your back,” said Melissa Gray, a registered psychologist and counsellor with SAIT Development and Counselling.
According to a 2021 report from Meal Exchange, 56.8% of Canadian post-secondary students faced food insecurity last semester, in the fall of 2021. This number rose compared to the results of a similar study from 2016 which found that nearly 40% of students faced food insecurity.
Being a post-secondary student can be challenging to begin with but adding factors such as financial strain and food insecurity can make it feel unbearable.
“If there’s any kind of those foundational needs, the person is hungry and they’re concerned literally about being able to meet that basic need, but we’re asking them to use their brain to really commit lots of energy and it’s just going to create a barrier that has nothing to do with their potential,” said Gray.
SAIT Development and Counselling is available for counselling sessions with students who are facing financial hardships or other stressors.
In addition to SAIT’s counselling services, SAITSA also has several resources to help students who are facing food and financial insecurity. However, they have had to temporarily shut down two of these services, the Wellness Bank and Emergency Food Fund, as they are facing request volumes that are too high to keep up with.
The Wellness Bank and Emergency Food Fund “were so popularly used. [SAITSA] actually ran out of stock [and] the budget,” said Ryan Seggie, SAITSA’s wellness coordinator.
“So, what we’re doing now is revamping programs based on who needed it the most, what they needed, so we can really streamline the money that we’re using and put it towards what’s most needed,” said Seggie.
Before being temporarily shut down, the Wellness Bank provided students with essential personal care and hygiene products, while the Emergency Food Fund provided students with grocery gift cards and other food supplies.
SAITSA hopes to once again offer these services to students, and they are trying to find ways to offer these programs again.
“We are working with outer resources … to figure out how we can get more [donations] in,” said Seggie.
Although the Wellness Bank is not currently available to students, free menstrual hygiene products are available in SAIT’s Resource Centre in MC107. SAITSA also runs a Good Food Box service and students can order discounted boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables that can be picked up on campus.
It’s like this looming heaviness, or … think of it like a backpack that’s totally full and so heavy. You have the demands and you’re trying to perform and you’re trying to learn, and you kind of have that so to speak on your back. – Melissa Gray
“The [SAITSA] Resource Centre is where students can go right now to ask pretty much any question,” said Seggie.
In addition to SAIT and SAITSA’s services, the Calgary Food Bank is available to students who are facing food insecurity. They offer emergency food hampers that can be requested online or by phone and they have drive-thru and walk-up hamper pick-ups by appointment only. The main location is in southeast Calgary, but there are a variety of satellite locations around the city to make it more accessible.
For more information, SAIT’s Lamb Learner Success Centre has a list of other financial services and resources available to students.