Some Mcast students are using donations from food banks to feed themselves, according to the president of the Malta Food Bank Foundation.
“The problem of food poverty in Malta is bigger than anyone can tell,” Irene Schembri said.
In an interview with Times of Malta ahead of World Food Day marked today, Ms Schembri said: “The cost of living has gone up tremendously in recent years and it’s not just by one or two cents.”
While NGOs and charities in Malta work to help the most vulnerable, it seems that many people are slipping through the cracks – including students, although statistics for them are not available.
Monday’s Budget offered students at tertiary level incentives such as a €850 grant to learn a foreign language abroad. However, some believe more should be done to help them afford life’s basic necessities.
“Food is a human right,” Ms Schembri said.
“Malta is very small, so we avoid having people forming queues outside food banks to protect their dignity. But people should not have to make these decisions in the first place.”
Marina Sceberras, Student Liaison Manager, said Mcast encounters students who need support because of unforeseen family situations including marriage break downs or the death of a parent. Others are single parents, have no family to turn to or with health issues.
“There have been times when we had to support such students through the provision of a lunch-time snack, materials required for their course or assistance in looking for accommodation,” she said.
“We are here to help students in the best ways possible so that we can see them succeed through their educational journey to become employable and self-sufficient through joining the labour market.”
The University of Malta’s Student Council (KSU) says it allocates €5,000 of its self-raised funds to help those brave enough to come forward.
“We have had people who’ve become homeless, got pregnant or simply can’t afford basic living expenses,” Daniela Fitzpatrick, the KSU administrative secretary said.
“We have a board which meets to discuss each case and then we decide where the funds should go.”
The Chaplaincy at the University of Malta also offers support on its online page, saying: “Drop in for a tea or coffee, or to heat up your lunch in our kitchen. You are also welcome to join us for lunch every day at 13:00.”
Some living on the poverty line are eligible for certain schemes paid for by both the government and the EU. For example, the Fund for the European Aid for the Most Deprived helps households where the income does not exceed 80 per cent of the national minimum wage while the State Funded Food Distribution gives out food packages every six months.
Under this scheme, a single person with disability on a monthly pension of €478 will receive three kilos of spaghetti, one kilo of rice, one litre of long-life milk and five tins of canned goods, worth around €6.50. A married couple receives a similar food package worth around €12.
“This is not enough food, given the low income. The cost of living has gone up tremendously, it’s no joke,” Ms Schembri noted.
“Everything counts. But what I question is, whether it is worth all the effort and man hours behind working on this scheme for an individual to be given some €8 worth of food twice a year.”