For many desi newcomers settling in Canada, the transition isn’t as intimidating as it used to be. Thanks to YouTube and Instagram influencers, they arrive armed with information, from scoring a free phone to accessing free groceries at charity food banks, and more.
Yet in recent weeks, several international students lining up for free groceries haven’t just left empty-handed. They’ve also received notices from their colleges stating that these food banks are intended for the most vulnerable in society.
In London, Ontario, one food bank noticed a steep increase in students from Fanshawe College. Investigation revealed that a Malayalam video had misguided many, suggesting they cut weekly expenses by visiting a food bank instead of shopping at Walmart.
“The numbers just began to mushroom,” said Glen Pearson, co-executive director of the London Food Bank, as reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). “Our staff noticed this huge influx and knew action was needed.”
The food bank promptly contacted the college, which distributed a notice to all students regarding the situation.
Similarly, in Brampton, Ontario, housing one of Canada’s largest international student populations, a food bank outright banned international students after witnessing a surge in their numbers starting in September, coinciding with the fall session intake. They put up a board that explicitly read: “DO NOT ENTER FOOD BANK. No International Students!!”
An official from the Brampton food bank expressed concerns, telling the CBC, “We see groups of three, four, sometimes nine, 10 students, backpacks ready for free stuff. We tell them, ‘We can’t provide for you; you’re responsible for yourself and your family.’ If they’re hitting up multiple food banks and churches, this is now a matter of abuse.”
While social media content likely directed more students to food banks, many believe the escalating cost of living in Canada is the main issue.
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Reports showed a record number of Canadians turning to food banks last year amid soaring inflation and unaffordability. Statistics Canada reported that seven million Canadians, about one sixth of the population, faced hunger, while 18 percent of families struggled with food insecurity.
Mounting unemployment and sky-high rents have pushed many international students, who already rely heavily on loans to study in Canada, to their limits, compelling them to turn to food banks for necessary support.
(Daksh Panwar is an Ontario-based journalist and broadcaster. Twitter: @Daksh280)