The Students’ Union at GMIT has been forced to provide food boxes for students who are experiencing “extreme poverty” due to delays in student grants.
The organisation confirmed this week that it made the decision after it emerged that a large number of students were fasting for long periods as they could not afford to purchase food.
SU President Joe O’Connor said an increasing number of students had been approaching the union for financial help but, as assistance cheques take a few days to clear, a more immediate solution was needed.
“They were basically saying that they had come in to college that morning at 8.30am after a light breakfast or a bowl of cereal at home and literally did not have anything to eat until maybe 6pm or 7pm that evening because they financially just couldn’t afford it,” he said.
“The second reason for the introduction of this is that first years, even though we have promoted it, may not be aware of the hardship fund and the services that are available to help them with financial difficulty. That concerned us and we thought the food box might make us aware of other people who are in that dire need situation so we can help them.”
A limited number of food boxes with non-perishable food items have now been made available on the GMIT campus ahead of the return of the majority of students next week. Mr O’Connor said the union is currently funding the service from its petty cash reserves but added that several local supermarkets and outlets had come on board in recent days to supply produce for the boxes.
The Hotel and Catering School at GMIT will also be providing full dinners for €1 each day to 15 students identified by the Students’ Union as being in need.
Over 10,000 students across the country are believed to be still waiting on their first grant payment of the year from the centralised Student Universal Support Ireland body and Mr O’Connor said there is “major structural reform” needed ahead of the next academic year.
“There’s a certain degree of progress but it’s almost too late in the day to save the situation this year. Things have fallen so far behind and the crisis has escalated to such a degree that, even at the current speed of processing applications, it’s not going to be resolved in a flash and it’s likely to drag out for a number of weeks at the minimum,” he said.
Mr O’Connor said the union was trying to be as constructive as possible to make sure that students don’t have to drop out of college.
Meanwhile, President of NUI Galway Students’ Union Paul Curley told the Galway Independent this week that the organisation was not distributing food boxes to students but had seen a huge increase in the amount of students accessing hardship supports this year.
He said he had also heard reports of students seeking support from St Vincent de Paul services in the city, adding that the pressure that students are under “cannot be underestimated”.
“The crisis in SUSI, the online grants application system, has left thousands of students with no financial support. That’s students who are deemed eligible for the meagre financial support available, but who haven’t received it,” he said.
“By definition of qualifying for financial support, it means that no other support is available. Their families don’t have the means to support them and part time jobs are few and far between. It really is at crisis point and it will result in more students dropping out of college.”
Mr Curley confirmed that the union had reviewed the catering service operated on campus and was now offering a lunchtime meal for €3.50 in an effort to “allow students to stretch what little they have”. However, he added that most other student unions could not provide this kind of support.