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COVID-19 sparks 'crisis of meaning' for struggling European students

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Students from the Free University of Brussels wait in a line to pick up products at the Frigo Partage food bank in Brussels on Monday, March 8, 2021
Students from the Free University of Brussels wait in a line to pick up products at the Frigo Partage food bank in Brussels on Monday, March 8, 2021   -   Copyright  Virginia Mayo/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
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Hundreds of students in Brussels have turned to a campus food bank as they struggle to get through the coronavirus pandemic.

Last year, as Belgium went into lockdown and many people lost their jobs, an NGO teamed up with the Free University of Brussels to distribute food to students in need.

The project, called Frigo Partage, collects food from supermarkets that can't be sold, and distributes them twice a week at midday.

An average of 70 students come to collect their supplies each time the food bank is open.

Saturday marks a year since Belgian universities shut down and moved to remote learning - something students say has taken a major toll on their mental health.

Louise, a 20-year-old bioengineering student at the Dutch-speaking Free University of Brussels (VUB), said it was difficult to keep focused and follow classes from home.

"The hardest part, for me especially, is finding a reason to wake up in the morning and just (do) everything you are supposed to do," she said.

Laurent Belhomme, a psychologist at the French-speaking Free University of Brussels (ULB)'s student mental health service, suggested there was a "crisis of meaning" for students, both in terms of their studies and their place in society.

"Young people wonder where we are going, and the pandemic has really accentuated that," he explained.