Brampton Food Bank Turns Away International Students Amid Surging Demand

The white board outside the Ste. Louise Outreach Food Bank notes: “Do not enter food bank / No international students!! (Government regulations)” PHOTO BY X

The Ste. Louise Outreach Centre of Peel, a Brampton-based food bank, has announced a controversial decision to deny services to international students due to soaring demand and limited resources. This move has sparked a debate about the responsibility of food banks and the plight of international students in Canada.

Influx of International Students Strains Resources

Catherine Rivera, the Board President of Ste. Louise Outreach, explained that the food bank has been overwhelmed by the number of international students seeking assistance since September. “We can’t provide enough food and other supplies to our customers,” Rivera said. The food bank has posted a sign explicitly stating, “No International Students!!” citing government regulations.

Rivera pointed out that international students are required to demonstrate financial self-sufficiency for their first year in Canada, implying that reliance on food banks should not be necessary. “We get groups with their backpacks ready for free stuff; we tell them, ‘We can’t feed you, you’re responsible for yourself and your family,'” she remarked.

Criticism from Peers and Advocates

The decision has been met with criticism from others in the food bank community. Jindi Singh, National Director of Khalsa Aid, criticized the use of anecdotal evidence to justify the exclusion of international students. “It’s quite disturbing,” Singh said, highlighting the hardships faced by many students who are heavily in debt and legally permitted to work only limited hours.

Vishal Khanna, co-founder of the Sai Dham food bank in Etobicoke, echoed these concerns. Serving 1,500 students from 57 colleges each morning, Khanna sees firsthand the struggles of these students. “Even average Canadians making $60,000 are eating at our food bank,” Khanna noted, emphasizing the high cost of living.

Catherine Rivera says international students should be responsible for themselves and their families.

Colleges Respond to the Crisis

The issue has prompted calls for greater support from post-secondary institutions. Sheridan College, hosting over 10,000 international students, lists both Sai Dham and Ste. Louise Outreach on its website. Sunan Sharma, the dean of student affairs at Sheridan, expressed neutrality regarding Ste. Louise’s decision, stating the college’s role is limited to guiding students to available resources.

National Perspective on Food Bank Usage

The controversy in Brampton reflects a broader trend across Canada, where reliance on food banks has surged to record levels. According to Food Banks Canada, food bank usage reached its highest level since 1989. The Daily Bread Food Bank’s recent report also showed a 63% year-over-year increase in usage.

Looking Forward

While the debate continues, Ste. Louise Outreach is weighing its options in anticipation of the busy Christmas season and an expected increase in demand. The situation has highlighted the complexities and challenges faced by food banks, international students, and policy makers in addressing the growing need amid a cost of living crisis.

Feedback and Awareness

Rivera encourages feedback and ideas on the issue, recognizing the need for community dialogue and potential solutions. “We don’t have the resources to handle just anybody coming to the door,” she stated, signaling an openness to suggestions that could help address the crisis.