Misconceptions lead to surge in international students at London Food Bank

A photo of Glen Pearson at the London Food Bank CREDIT: MAURICIO PRADO
Glen Pearson (pictured) said the number of international students attending the London Food Bank has suddenly increased.

The number of international students attending the London Food Bank has increased significantly due to a misunderstanding about how food banks in Canada function and some misleading information on social media.

London Food Bank co-executive director Glen Pearson said the students “inundating” the Food Bank were from Fanshawe College. He added he found that out because he talked to some of them while in the Food Bank. That prompted him to call Fanshawe president Peter Devlin to discuss the situation further.

“I told him that it had been manageable until September. Then, for whatever reason, at the start of Fanshawe’s September semester, we were just inundated with East Asian students coming to the London Food Bank,” Pearson said.

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He added that the influx had created some difficulties for their volunteers, but he also wondered if Devlin could help them understand how to deal with it.

“[The college] set up a liaison that would work with us in the process,” Pearson said. “So, we came out of that call very gratified because we partner with Fanshawe on several issues.”

He said that after some days, he approached a couple of Fanshawe students, asked them about the problem, and said they were “very apologetic.”

“The students said to me that they thought and assumed that food banks were part of the Canadian culture,” he said. “They were putting the Food Bank at the same level as a grocery store but free.”

Pearson credits the confusion to a popular video on social media making its rounds through international communities, which stated that Food Banks were sources of free food.

But Fanshawe student Laura Tibaquira said she started using the Food Bank because it was hard for her to get a job when she first came to London. She added that she did not know about the video on social media.

“London is more expensive than I initially thought,” Tibaquira said. “I did it for necessity and not for a video. I did not even know that video existed.”

Tibaquira stated that without the help of the Food Bank, she would have “died of hunger” in the first months in London. She said she was provided with some basic things like pasta and rice for her to cook, which helped her immensely when shopping for the rest of her groceries.

“The fact that I could go to the supermarket just to buy meat and chicken was a big source of savings for me initially,” she said.

Fanshawe Student Union (FSU) president Stephin Sathya said it is important that students understand the purpose of the Food Bank.

“We must ensure that students understand the difference between what is a government-funded service and what is not,” Sathya said.

He also said that an email from the college was sent to all the students to clarify the use of the Food Bank.

“That email explains all the resources available to students for them to understand they have a lot of support here on campus before they go to the community,” he said.

Tibaquira said she did not receive anything in her email. She added that she regularly checks her personal and Fanshawe email accounts to see what is new.

“I do not know if they did not include me or simply did not send anything,” Tibaquira said.

Sathya said they have seen a common reason for students not being able to afford food.

“The lack of jobs and at the hours at their current jobs has led them not to have enough finances to spare for groceries,” Sathya said.

Sathya shared a social media video explaining the use of the Food Bank. In the video, he emphasized that the Food Bank exists to serve people in crisis and in extreme need of food support. He ended the video by encouraging every student to remember the purpose of the Food Bank and be conscious about it. Sathya added that the FSU will work with the college to inform students through all possible channels.

Pearson said that Canada’s economic challenges are constantly changing and that the College must inform international students about this before they come to Canada.

“An accurate assessment needs to be given to students applying because they do not know. A proper and mandatory assessment needs to be given to them,” Pearson said.

Pearson said it is a manageable problem as long as everyone works together to solve it and prevent it from happening again.