Anusha Subramanian (a U of R student) and friends at the URSU food pantry.

 More students are taking advantage of a new food pantry program at the University of Regina.

The program started last semester and runs every other Wednesday in the multi-purpose room. It’s part of the University of Regina Student Union’s URSU Cares initiative. As of Feb. 8, there were 150 students signed up compared with 120 at the end of January. 

Anusha Subramanian has used the food pantry since she began studies in January. She and her friends learned about it during orientation.

“It’s $10 dollars per annum, which would attract anybody to take (it). So we were overwhelmed…if you’re going to get it fortnightly then it’s a great deal, right?” she said.

As an international student, she pays $6,500 a semester in tuition. She also lives in the residence, which costs $3,500 a semester. For weekly grocery shopping, she takes a bus on Saturdays that drops students off at Superstore.

“So when I actually do an apple-to-apple comparison from the Superstore (items) to what we get (at the pantry)….It’s much cheaper for me,” she said.

And it also saves her from going outside in winter. 

“It’s so cold outside. I think (for the past) two days the temperature feels like its -46 or -47 C. This weather is like more than impossible for me,” she laughed.

Justin Stranack, who started going to the pantry in December, is completing his Grade 12 diploma at Saskatchewan Polytechnic. His wife is a school-bus driver and they have three kids under the age of five.

“The number of expenses that we have compared to our income doesn’t leave a lot of room for money if we pay all of our bills. That little bit extra kind of helps make things easier to afford,” he said.

Stranack chooses fresh produce because it’s hard for him to afford healthy food. He also doesn’t have much time to prepare food for himself because of homework and his job.

“It’s even harder to eat enough with my work schedule,” he said. “The time between when I leave the house at 7:30 (a.m.) to when I get home at around 12 (midnight) doesn’t leave a lot of opportunities for preparing food. My diet basically these days consists of macaroni and cheese and sandwiches ‘cause they’re so quick and easy.”

In a previous pantry experiment, only a few students cleaned out the larder. The revamped program is membership-based and targets students who need help. Once a student has used the pantry 15 times, URSU will reach out to the student to see if they need further help, such as from the Emergency Bursary Fund.

“The core idea of the new program is that we will help make life more manageable for students while being able to identify who might need more substantial help,” Neil Middlemiss, operations manager for URSU, explained in an email.

Middlemiss recognizes that food security is becoming more difficult for students. The University of Regina has the highest tuition rates in Western Canada, making it difficult for students to afford healthy food.

The Regina Food Bank supplies the pantry. Laura Murray, manager of community programming, said 39 per cent of students say they face food insecurity and hunger, and supplying the pantry improves students’ access to the Bank.

“One of the challenges for students to come to access the food bank is our hours of operation,” she said. “We’re open … from 8 to 12 and 1 till 4, which sometimes is hard for students especially without transportation.”

Subramanian and Stranack are grateful for the pantry but think it could improve. Subramian said she hasn’t seen any vegetables yet. She’s a vegetarian, so they would be a welcome addition. Stranack suggests that staff should be ready before they open the doors.

“If someone comes in early, grabs what they see and leaves they might be missing out on things that aren’t out on the tables yet,” he said.

The pantry will next be open March 1.