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Waterloo Region transit, food banks seeing record breaking usage with high student enrolment numbers

Conestoga College's Waterloo campus is pictured on Sept. 21, 2023. (Dan Lauckner/CTV Kitchener) Conestoga College's Waterloo campus is pictured on Sept. 21, 2023. (Dan Lauckner/CTV Kitchener)

More students in Waterloo Region are relying on food bank and transit services than normal, leading to more pressure on the organizations.

The Food Bank of Waterloo Region received record breaking numbers across all categories in the month of August.

“When we look at the ages of individuals 18 to 30, we are seeing high numbers in those who are accessing food assistance. Students are struggling, as [is] everyone else, with the present cost of living,” Kim Wilhelm, interim CEO of the food bank, said.

“Just over 1,000 students, who identified as students at our food assistance programs, accessed food last month. That’s about a 150 per cent increase over last August.”

The food bank is open to supporting anyone who needs it, but there are specific food programs in place at schools for students.

Wilhelm said food bank staff communicate regularly with post-secondary institutions in the region to ensure supports are in place.

“Conestoga College specifically has indicated that they do have the supports in place to support their students with food assistance if needed,” Wilhelm said.

Of the post secondary institutions in Waterloo Region, Conestoga College has recorded the biggest increase in international students over the past few years.

John Tibbits, the president of Conestoga College, said the school has been increasing communication with students so they’re seeking the proper supports, instead of going directly to the food bank.

“We have a number of food security programs,” Tibbits said, saying some are run by the school and some are run by students.

“On YouTube, I guess there was a [video] that showed how you can use a food bank, but that’s not where our students should be.”

Tibbits said the school is committed to contributing back to food banks after learning so many students were using the service.

“I’m not saying they shouldn’t have food help, but not from the food bank,” Tibbits said.

“Our students are being told to stop going there.”

BUSY BUSES

To kick off the month of September, Grand River Transit (GRT) reported record-breaking ridership with 150,000 boardings each day.

“That number has sustained through the last few weeks,” Doug Spooner, director of transit services at GRT, said.

Previously, the record high was 110,000 daily boardings.

Conestoga College student Darshin Shirwlkar said he’s noticed a major increase in crowdedness on buses since September.

“It gets difficult to take the bus because people try to get on the bus and the bus gets full. We miss a couple of buses and it’s not very frequent so we have to wait for some time, then we get delayed for our classes and jobs” he said.

Another Conestoga College student he had to wait for almost two and a half hours earlier this week.

“If the buses would increase their numbers, then it would really help students get to their classes or to work more timely,” he said.

Spooner said 95 per cent of routes haven’t been experiencing overcrowding. He would not confirm if Conestoga College areas are among the busiest routes.

He said steps are being taken for areas that are seeing more pressure.

“We’ve got a number of activities underway. We’ve got every available bus out and we’ve got our supervisor team on the ground in the busy locations helping to direct people,” Spooner said.

No additional routes have been added at this point.

“We’ve got new classes of bus drivers coming on in October and also in November,” Spooner said.

Tibbits said he believes the GRT needs to “step up” to address the need as so many students are relying on the service.

“They have to make sure there’s buses,” Tibbits said.

This is part two of two-part series. Click here to read part one.

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