By Eric Lam
Facing record shortages after its first drive fizzled, Ryerson’s only food bank had to dip into its limited budget this week to keep the shelves stocked.
“It’s the lowest return we’ve ever had. With such low results now, we don’t know how it’ll go,” said Mandy Ridley, the outreach co-ordinator for the Community Food Room, a student service sponsored by the Ryerson Students’ Union.
For the fall drive, one of only three major drives for the food room the entire year, the group placed large cardboard boxes across campus from Oct. 1 to 12 targeting faculty, staff and students. But when volunteers came around to collect, they found only 163 items. Ridley said that was enough to feed about 16 students for one day.
“And on a Friday we can get 25 students, so that’s not even really enough for one day,” she said. “It’s a sorry thought we have to go out and buy groceries because we’re hard up at the beginning of the year.”
Ridley and a few other volunteers rushed to the on-campus Dominion to buy about $400 (two grocery carts) worth of food to tide them over until the Daily Bread Food Bank makes its biweekly delivery next Friday.
But with 72 new members signing up in the past month — the room stopped serving non-students in September but demand still higher than ever before — the food room will face similar crunches for the rest of the year.
The food room has a budget of $5,855 from the RSU for the year, plus a major donation from the Muslim Students’ Association’s Fast-a-Thon drive.
“You can’t live on tuna cans and Kraft dinner, and that’s all we have,” Ridley said, describing what they usually get from the shipments. She wants to provide students with a balanced diet, but at this point keeping the shelves full is hard enough.
Melissa Reamer, a first-year international graduate student in photographic preservation management, uses the food room every week.
“I wouldn’t be able to eat or get any food at all if it wasn’t for the food room,” she said.
Reamer can’t work off-campus because she’s an international student, and depends on annual $20,500 loans from an American lender to pay her bills. And with her Ryerson tuition at $18,500 a year and climbing, she expects to be almost $100,000 in debt by the time she graduates.
“I think it’s a shame [donations were so low]. I know there’s flyers all over the place, but do people really pay attention?”
The larger problem, Reamer said, is public ignorance of the problems poor students face.
“If I was a mother on welfare, I’d get more charity than if I was a student. People think with loans we can make ends meet and it’ll work out fine, but it doesn’t work out that way,” she said.
“There’s this crazy notion we have money when we don’t. Even OSAP is just borrowed money,” Ridley said.
Gail Nyberg, the executive director for the Daily Bread Food Bank, said there isn’t enough awareness in the public.
“I don’t think there’s a great understanding among the general public. When you do a radio interview and mention university students use food banks it’s not at the top of their minds but they say ‘oh that makes sense,’” she said.
Nyberg added the group should have advertised their drive more effectively. “I think if it was better known, faculty and students would’ve donated more,” she said.
Nyberg said the Daily Bread Food Bank’s own recent food drive collected about 800,000 pounds, which was “short but not surprisingly short.” She added asking students for donations made sense because many students still live with their parents and can spare the food.