A Brampton food bank has decided to close its doors to international students, amid an overwhelming demand it says it can’t meet.
Board president Catherine Rivera says Ste. Louise Outreach Centre of Peel can’t provide enough food and other supplies to its customers because of the influx of international students showing up at the food bank since September.
But others in the same line of work are calling out the food bank for using anecdotes rather than data to support its decision. They should have to if they’re using anecdotes to shut their doors on people who only have $668 a month, said Jindi Singh, national director of Khalsa Aid.
“I wonder if they realize how difficult it is for international students, some of them who are heavily in debt,” Singh said. “It’s quite disturbing.”
Rivera says students are required to show funds for their first year before coming into Canada, and hence should not be relying on food banks.
“We get groups of three, four, sometimes nine, 10, with their backpacks ready for free stuff, we tell them, ‘We can’t feed you, you’re responsible for yourself and your family,'” Rivera said.
At the Sai Dham food bank in Etobicoke, co-founder Vishal Khanna says they are serving 1,500 students each morning from 57 colleges.
He says that number has risen “drastically” in the last few years.
LISTEN | Brampton food bank director explains why they are banning international students:
Metro Morning7:03Brampton food bank director explains why they are banning international students
While Khanna has empathy for food banks not having enough supplies, he says they shouldn’t assume students have the money to sustain themselves when cost of living is so high, even “average Canadians… a person who is making $60,000 is still eating at our food bank.”
Divide the required funds Ste. Louis Outreach Centre mentions by 12 months and some students are left with as little as $688 each month to cover food and expenses.
Across Canada, reliance on food banks is reaching record levels. According to an October report from Food Banks Canada food bank usage reached its highest level since the survey started in 1989. The Daily Bread Food Bank’s most recent annual report, found a 63 per cent year-over-year increase in use from July 2022 to June 2023.
Showing up at a food bank is a last resort for people struggling during a “cost of living crisis,” Singh said, adding that Khalsa Aid has received numerous requests from international students struggling to find a job that offers them 20 hours a week — they are legally allowed to work.
Calls for colleges to step up
Sheridan College hosts over 10,000 international students and lists food banks, including Sai Dham and Ste Louise Outreach on its website for students to access in times of need.
Sunan Sharma, the dean of student affairs, says he’s unbothered by Ste. Louise’s decision because the college already has some services, such as a food pantry and grocery cards for all students.
“Congratulations for the work that you’re doing… if they can’t serve that segment of the population, it’s OK, you’re putting food into the bellies of people who need it,” Sharma said.
He says Sheridan will just list Ste. Louise with a note that it’s available only to “domestic students.”
Sharma says the college’s role is only to point students in the right direction and that it can’t do anything about who an independent charity like Ste. Louise decides to serve.
That’s not enough, says Khalsa Aid and Sai Dham.
The two organizations are calling for post-secondary institutes to have more support in place for all students, so they don’t have to show up at food banks in the first place.