Demand climbs to new highs at local food banks

·3 min read
The Ottawa Food Bank says it is dealing with the highest demand for its services in its 38-year history. (Olivier Periard/Radio-Canada - image credit)
The Ottawa Food Bank says it is dealing with the highest demand for its services in its 38-year history. (Olivier Periard/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Food banks in Ottawa-Gatineau say they're facing unprecedented demand as prices continue to rise.

The Ottawa Food Bank is serving more people than at any other time in its 38-year history, according to a news release.

Compared to March 2017 demand is up 39 per cent, and up 20 per cent compared to last year.

That's putting pressure on the 108 organizations it supports, as well as the people who use its services, said Rachael Wilson, the food bank's CEO.

Social assistance rates have not kept pace with the cost of living in our city. — Rachael Wilson, Ottawa Food Bank CEO

"It's harder and harder for people to be able to afford to put food on their table," she said.

Brian Olsen, who works for the Ottawa Mission as a driver and a cook in one of its mobile kitchens, said he is serving between 150 and 250 hot meals at each of his two stops per day.

Olivier Periard/Radio-Canada
Olivier Periard/Radio-Canada

Olsen has been in the job for about six weeks and said he's seeing more customers as the weather gets nicer. And though many of those clients are familiar faces, he said a handful each day aren't.

"There's new people every day that I'm working."

Getting squeezed

At Moisson Outaouais, a food bank in Gatineau, Que., the feeling is much the same.

"All of this is a constant worry," said president Diane Dupont Cyr. "The cost of living is increasing so much. Where will it stop?"

Sylvain Charlebois, director of Dalhousie University's agri-food analytics lab, said part of the problem is that as food prices rise, more and more people are looking for deals.

That hits food banks on two fronts, according to Charlebois.

Not only do they get less food for the money they spend, but apps like Flash Food and FoodHero are connecting more and more people with deals at grocery stores, Charlebois said. That means items normally donated to charity are instead getting snatched up.

"So there's less food rerouted towards food banks these days," he said. "That's affecting their capacity to serve a greater number of people, and numbers are growing."

Olivier Periard/Radio-Canada
Olivier Periard/Radio-Canada

Spending doubles, even triples

At Moisson Outaouais, the budget for gas has doubled from $40,000 to $80,000, said Dupont Cyr, and the budget for food has tripled, up to $665,000.

Wilson, meanwhile, said it's apparent that for many people, wages simply aren't high enough.

"People can't afford to live in expensive cities like Ottawa and in cities right across the country," she said.

"Social assistance rates have not kept pace with the cost of living in our city. So we'd like to see those increased so that people can afford food, rent and other necessities of life."

More 1st-time food bank users

Lisa Fabian, executive director of Care Centre Ottawa in Bethel Pentecostal Church, says more new clients are using their food bank than ever before.

"We have many, many people who have come to the food bank for the very first time. They never thought that they would ever find themselves in a position where they would be needing a food bank," she told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Thursday.

"Over and over again, people are just struggling. ... Really often working quite hard, doing their very best, but just not being able to make their dollar stretch far enough at the end of the month."

The centre has been getting some extra deliveries from the Ottawa Food Bank to help it meet demand, Fabian said.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting