OTTAWA — The federal government is spending another $30 million to help people at risk of going hungry.
The top-up of the Emergency Food Security Fund will provide more money to the charitable sector to help Canadians access needed food services.
Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau says the move is a response to increased demand for food banks and programs by Canadians across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The government has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to the fund since the beginning of the pandemic.
The latest federal money will be distributed among several food banks and programs, including Food Banks Canada, Second Harvest, Breakfast Club of Canada and The Salvation Army.
Fund recipients will use part of the money to buy surplus Prince Edward Island potatoes and distribute them to local food organizations in need, a product that Bibeau said was of "excellent quality."
Fresh potatoes from P.E.I. currently face an almost month-long export ban to the United States after the discovery of a fungus, called potato wart, growing on two potato farms.
Kirstin Beardsley, chief network services officer of Food Banks Canada, said the extra money "could not have come at a better time" because of increased demand for help over the last few months.
Beardsley said that in some weeks the demand has doubled compared to the same period last year, but the average has been 67 per cent higher, a trend she said is "concerning to say the least."
Tommy Kulczyk, general manager of the Breakfast Club, says it has seen a "dramatic increase" in demand for breakfast programs in the last year, with over 600 schools on a waiting list to benefit from its help.
Lori Nikkel, CEO of Second Harvest, said its latest research shows over six million Canadians have visited one of more than 60,000 charities, schools, non-profits and food hubs to get food since the outset of the pandemic.
Nikkel said that groceries are becoming further out of reach for families as a result of rising food costs fuelled by inflation, leading many Canadians to seek help for the first time.
A drop in salaries, along with a rise in utility costs, means The Salvation Army is seeing more first-time users, not just in urban settings but also rural and smaller communities, said Lt.-Col. John Murray, a spokesman for the organization.
Meredith Hayes, senior manager of Community Food Services Canada, expressed her appreciation for the added support as solutions are sought for the systemic causes that lead people to go hungry.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 22, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Erika Ibrahim, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version referred to Lorri Nikkel. In fact, the person referred to is named Lori Nikkel.