Rising numbers of Canadian students are resorting to food banks because they are being squeezed by climbing tuition fees and a shortfall in loan cash, a survey suggests.
Fifty-one of the country's 280 colleges and universities have food banks, and nearly half of these provide handouts - in amounts ranging from one to four days' sustenance - at least once a week, according to the report, Campus HungerCount .
"It's certainly a new phenomenon," said Charles Seiden, executive director of the Canadian Association of Food Banks, a national umbrella group that co-sponsored the study along with the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.
"When I went to university 25 years ago, there were no food banks. Maybe people dealt with it differently then - maybe within their families, maybe within the community. But, the fact is, there are a number of post-secondary students who are struggling to make ends meet," Mr Seiden said.
The association found that slightly fewer than one in ten users of all the nation's 632 food banks is a post-secondary student. In absolute terms, that translates to 68,900 students seeking assistance, meaning students are three times more likely than the general population to go to a food bank.
Campus HungerCount blames the crisis on reductions in federal government payments to the provinces for education and health, which were cut during the mid-1990s.
"These collective cuts left our post-secondary institutions cash-starved, and they, in turn, looked to students to make up the shortfall," says the survey, published last month. "Correspondingly, students faced rapid and steep tuition increases across the country and, as a result, students saw more of their budgets being eaten up by tuition fees, leaving less for basic necessities such as housing, clothing and food."
Average undergraduate tuition rose from C$1,185 (£490) in 1988 to C$4,025 this year, according to Statistics Canada. Partly in response, the federal government announced in March that it would increase the maximum amount it loans a university pupil to C$210 a week of study from C$165, its rate since 1994.
"All over the country, campus food banks are just mushrooming," said Jivetesh Mann, one of two coordinators for the food centre at Carleton University in Ottawa.
The centre, run by the student union, served 30 people a week last September, but that tripled to 100 a week by April, Mr Mann said. He expects 200 a week when the new academic year begins in the autumn.
"Even our campus bar is losing money because no one has the time or money to spend on booze anymore," Mr Mann said.