With food inflation soaring, high housing prices and the cost at the gas pump hitting everyone’s wallets harder than ever before, food insecurity has more and more people turning to their local food banks for help.
In January, national food rescue organization Second Harvest reported that food banks and other non-profit groups that serve vulnerable Canadians are expected to support 60 per cent more people per month in 2023 than in 2022.
That is on top of 134 per cent growth in 2022, according to the research, the Second Harvest website notes, citing the end of COVID-19 supports, food inflation and flat wages as contributing to the increased reliance on food charity.
Jaye Murray, program manager at Sources Food Bank for the South Surrey/White Rock and Langley locations, said there has been a significant increase in the number of Peninsula residents relying on the food bank.
“From during COVID until now, our numbers have gone up by about 47 per cent,” she said.
“Our numbers are increasing and prices are increasing… I’ve never seen it this busy in all my years.”
Murray, who has worked at the food bank since the late 1990s, noted the number of refugees and homeless accessing the food banks services have gone up, as well as among those who have jobs.
Refugees include Ukrainians and Afghan families, many of whom are not familiar with certain processed or canned goods that are common here.
“If you hand them a box of Kraft Dinner it means nothing, so they really look towards the fresh fruits and produce.”
The food bank is fortunate to be able to purchase fresh fruit and vegetable every week, Murray noted, and also gets a lot of help from all the major grocery stores – Save-On, Safeway, Superstore and Walmart, for example – through food rescue services.
Actual, physical food donations are also down about 25 per cent in the third quarter of 2022 from the previous year, she said, even though the third quarter includes Christmastime, when they tend to get the bulk of their donations.
“I think part of it is the cost of food – it’s difficult for everybody,” she said.
“Everything’s gone up – housing, gas food… I just don’t see it ending.”
When they do purchase food, they focus on the healthy basics, such as rolled oats, rice and fresh produce, Murray noted.
“We wouldn’t go out and buy cookies for instance. Those are the sort of extras clients get from the community,” she said.
Many people who use the food bank have jobs – that has always been the case, she said, but even families where both parents work now need extra support from the food bank.
“A lot of the people that come here work, they just can’t make ends meet. With the cost of housing in this area, the cost of food, the cost of keeping your car on the road…. it’s probably the category that has been growing the most,” she said.
“We’re seeing more and more people coming back who we haven’t seen for several years.”
There are also many more unhoused individuals accessing the food bank than ever, said Murray.
The Second Harvest website said long-term solutions with support from the government are needed.
“Without more help, literally thousands of Canadians will not have enough food to feed themselves or their family, making 2023 an even tougher year than any of the time during the pandemic,” the site says.
“In the long-term, individuals need government support like income regulation that’s indexed to inflation and solutions for affordable housing so that non-profit food programs are not needed in the first place. Without systemic change, food insecurity will only get worse in Canada.”
“It’s going to be interesting unless the government steps in and starts lending support.”
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