Meals support international students during COVID-19

International student Chidinma Ejiogu appreciates the support being given through free meals.

Griffith University international students hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis have been given a helping hand with the provision of more than 3200 free meals each week.

A local consortium has been supplying funding, frozen meals and grocery staples to help support the students with the equivalent of about five meals per week.

Griffith University Vice President (Global) Professor Sarah Todd said many international students had been left jobless during the pandemic, but unlike their domestic counterparts, had limited access to government financial support and many had been relying on swiftly depleting savings to survive.

Vice President (Global) Professor Sarah Todd.

“Many international students were among the first to lose their casual or part-time employment as a result of COVID-19,” Professor Todd said.

“In addition, many who would normally receive support from families and others in their home country have been unable to access that financial support due to economic impacts globally.

“Providing free meals offers pragmatic assistance to students in need, as well as reinforcing the care and concern for them shown by different organisations in the local community.”

Meals are being supplied to about 340 students registered for help on the Gold Coast each week, partly from $6000 funding from Study Gold Coast and more than 1200 meals weekly from FareShare and Foodbank, as well as donations of groceries from Gold Coast University Hospital.

Foodbank and FareShare supply a further 2000 meals a week to more than 370 Griffith University Brisbane-based students collecting from Nathan campus each week and numerous local groups also donated groceries to these students.

An international student picks up his meals for the week. Image: Nine Gold Coast

Master of Global Public Health international student Chidinma Ejiogu said the meals helped her “immensely”, particularly during exam period.

“Cooking became a challenge for me because I was so swamped with school activities seeing as we were coming to the end of the trimester,” Chidinma said.

“The packaged meals went a long way in helping me manage my time effectively.

“Receiving the meals also helped my budget the last few weeks as I could save up some more money for rent and other necessities. “

Another international student, Udu Abeysinghe, found the meals provided relief to the hip pocket, despite finding it difficult to ask for help initially.

“I lost a few jobs and had one left, so (the food being supplied meant) I could save money for my rent and petrol,” Udu said.

International students on the Gold Coast collect meals from Cafe Rossa. Image: Nine Gold Coast

“I was a proud little soul… yet during those hardest of times learnt how to ask for help and it was surprising how people could put so much effort in, collecting food and preparing meals for us.

“I am so grateful.”

Udu said one of the best meals so far was the casserole.

“I actually didn’t know what it was, I asked my academic supervisor and got to know it is a very Australian food,” Udu said.

“I love the opportunity to enjoy something new.”

Griffith International have managed registrations and logistics for the meal initiative, while Campus Life and the Student Guild on the Gold Coast have managed storage and distribution. In Brisbane the Student Representative Council has supported by promoting the initiative to students, while Campus Life has been looking after storage and Study Brisbane facilitating distribution.

Professor Todd said it was essential students did not feel “less than” for accepting help.

“It was important that we were providing students the opportunity to receive help without question and see it as a gesture with no judgement.”

“We have reallocated staff to help with this process and the opportunity to be involved in such a personal offer of support to students has been really positive,” Professor Todd said.

There have been both options for collection on campus or free delivery, with an even split of students preferring each.

“We found students choosing to stop by campus to pick up their meals enjoyed having a reason to leave the house and this was really important at a time where isolation was impacting students a great deal,” Professor Todd said.

“It helped them with time management and practical management of resources, but also provided them with an opportunity for safe social interaction.

“Griffith is extremely appreciative of the various organisations who have come together to make this support program possible.”

The scheme was initially arranged for a period of eight weeks but has since been extended a further 12 weeks, until August 7.