Lack of education on how food banks operate, combined with misinformation being spread on social media, has resulted in a sudden increase in improper food bank usage among international students across Canada, with some food banks electing to ban international students.
Earlier this month, an X user posted a photo of a sign outside of the Ste. Louise Outreach Centre in Brampton; the sign read, “No international students (Government Regulations).” The post has sparked mass debate and has shone a spotlight on the lack of education regarding food banks as well as the influx of misinformation being spread by Indian influencers in Canada, which has led to the misuse of local food banks.
“I always think it’s important for us to educate the community when someone may need to access a food bank and why we are here,” said Kim Wilhelm, CEO of The Food Bank of Waterloo Region, “Ultimately, we are here to support an individual when they are going through a difficult time.”
The sign was posted online by Brampton political blogger Darshan Maharaja, who says that when asked, the outreach center said they were being cleaned out by large groups of international students, leaving nothing for their regular clients.
The post has since launched a mass discussion on social media, with many sharing video clips of Indian influencers marketing Canadian food banks as a means of a regular supply of free food.
In one video, which has since been deleted, entitled ‘HOW TO GET FREE FOOD IN CANADA | INTERNATIONAL STUDENT LIVING IN CANADA| $500 WORTH OF FOOD ITEMS’ the creator tells his audience that he and his roommates each go to the food bank every week. Near the end of the video, the creator shows his audience what he has gotten from the food bank that week, which included six tubs of yogurt, six boxes of cereal, a reusable shopping bag full of tomatoes, eight boxes of crackers, and much more.
“I thought visitors to Canada must have enough money to sustain themselves for their studies?” said X user Mike.
According to the Government of Canada’s website, to obtain a study permit, students are required to have enough funds to support themselves during their time in Canada beyond tuition. International students coming to Canada are required to have $10,000 a year, or $833 a month in living expenses. Because of this, some Canadians say that international students should be banned from assistance programs such as food banks. However, international students disagree.
“I think it’s fine for international students as everyone probably knows what kind of situations international students get into. So, as long as they’re not actually affecting the people who are in dire need of food,” says Jayaditya Menon, an international student from India, “in my opinion, the food banks apply to international students as well, given our situation.”
According to data collected by Erudera, there were over 800,000 international students studying in post-secondary institutions across Canada in 2022, with approximately 412,000 studying in Ontario.
In the Waterloo Region, the need for food support has grown exponentially, especially for students.
“Last month, more than 23,000 people received food support from the community food assistance network,” said Wilhelm, “Of those 23,00 individuals … 1,900 identified themselves as students.”
While social media continues to debate the issue, Menon says international students should look to educate themselves on proper food bank usage and urges colleges and universities to hold seminars to educate future international students coming to Canada.