Benefit concert for St. John's food bank planned as demand reaches all-time highs

Demand for food is prompting St. John's largest food bank to ask for help from local musicians to raise funds. (Safiyah Marhnouj/CBC - image credit)
Demand for food is prompting St. John's largest food bank to ask for help from local musicians to raise funds. (Safiyah Marhnouj/CBC - image credit)
Safiyah Marhnouj/CBC
Safiyah Marhnouj/CBC

A benefit concert in St. John's is aiming to help the city's largest food bank keep their shelves stocked as demand for food bank services is expected to hit an all-time high.

Research released last week by Second Harvest, Canada's largest food rescue organization, estimates that nearly 40 per cent of not-for-profit food banks will need to add 50 per cent more food to their shelves to stay on top of demand in 2023.

"Last year was our kind of busiest year ever for sure," Bridges to Hope manager Jody Williams said Tuesday.

"They're expecting pretty much food bank usage to go up about 30 per cent in the next year all across Canada. Definitely we'll see that here.… That would equate to about $70,000."

Williams said the two largest demographics coming through the doors are children and seniors, which he called heartbreaking.

"Those numbers, of course, are going to increase. It's a hard business to be in," he said. "It takes a toll to definitely be in that system. But I'm more determined than ever, really, because you need to be. And this year, it's going to be a rough year."

Mark Quinn/CBC
Mark Quinn/CBC

Bridges to Hope is partnering with MusicNL to host a benefit concert to raise funds for the food bank. The concert will take place at Gower Street United Church on March 16, featuring performances by Alan Doyle, Rachel Cousins, Kelly McMichael and Nick Earle.

Tickets are available now at the Bridges to Hope website.

Food insecurity helpline shutting down

Meanwhile, Food First N.L. says it's making the hard decision to shut down its community food helpline because the advocacy organization isn't able to keep up with demand.

The helpline was launched in late 2020 as a way to connect people with food banks and programs in their region. It was originally funded by the federal government, but the provincial government stepped in to continue the program, which temporarily shut down in November.

Now Food First N.L. CEO Josh Smee says there isn't a funding plan in place after March and they've decided to notify the public that the program won't continue in its current state.

"We don't want to be in a situation where we went in, made an ask and at the last minute didn't get it and had to shut down really suddenly," Smee said Tuesday. "Now is the time when we can give people some notice, help people where we can transition off of that service and, as much as possible, make it like an orderly transition rather than that sudden stop."

CBC
CBC

Food First N.L. says the helpline has helped more than 11,000 people in 80 communities across Newfoundland and Labrador, but calls have skyrocketed in recent months as the cost of living and rate of food insecurity rise.

"Lately, with the cost of living crisis that we're in, there's sometimes been [700] or 800 people in line for a callback. And so it can take weeks to even reach somebody," Smee said.

"People are in really difficult situations, and the wait isn't easy either.… The safety net for them is just not adequate, and it's really difficult."

Parts of the helpline can survive, like shared food and grocery delivery services, said Smee, but the problems caused by the rising cost of living are too large for a new entity to just step in and keep things at the status quo.

"The only thing that's really gonna shift what this looks like on the ground level are bigger interventions," he said.

"Things like cost of living relief, things like bumping income support up so it keeps pace. You know, that's the scale of problem we're at. We're not at a scale that a community, any community agency, even any mix of community agencies can solve."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador