Rise in Food Bank Usage Among International Students Sparked by Social Media Misinformation

Bianca Gouveia is the vice-president of student services for the student council at Western University. She says student use of the USC's food bank has increased in recent years as students deal with higher rents and food prices. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Misunderstandings and viral social media posts have led to an unexpected surge in food bank visits by international students in Canada

A recent surge in food bank usage by international students in London, Ontario, and other parts of Canada has been attributed to misunderstandings propagated through social media. This trend has put a strain on these essential community services, prompting educational institutions to respond with informative campaigns.

Unprecedented Spike in Food Bank Usage

The London Food Bank, grappling with a 43% increase in overall visits since the start of the school year, observed a notable spike in requests from post-secondary students. Glen Pearson, co-executive director of the London Food Bank, highlighted the unexpected rise. “The numbers just began to mushroom,” Pearson said. Staff noted a significant presence of international students, primarily from London’s Fanshawe College.

Food Banks Across Canada Face Unprecedented Demand Amid Economic Strain
Volunteers sort through donated groceries at Daily Bread Food Bank

Misinformation Fuels Increased Demand

Investigations revealed that social media played a pivotal role in this trend. One misleading YouTube post in Malayalam suggested that Canadian food banks provided a regular supply of free food, a stark contrast to their intended emergency use. “It wasn’t something that was unique to London,” Pearson added, indicating a nationwide impact. The misinformation led a food bank in Brampton to close its doors to international students, citing unsustainable 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

Educational Response and Clarification

The situation prompted Fanshawe College to issue a clarifying statement about the role of food banks. “Once students were informed about how food banks work, they were apologetic,” Pearson noted. John Riddell of the Fanshawe Student Union emphasized efforts to counter the misinformation, assuring that it did not originate from the union or the college.

Food Support Services at Western University helps provide some staples for students who might be struggling to keep the fridge full as food prices continue to climb.

Addressing Legitimate Student Needs

Despite the confusion, the need among students remains high. Fanshawe’s “The Sharing Shop” and Western University’s Students’ Council (USC) food bank continue to offer support to students in genuine need. Bianca Gouveia, vice-president of student services at USC, reported nearly 600 hamper requests this year, underscoring the ongoing pressure students face due to rising living costs.