Demand higher than ever as Edmonton's Food Bank struggles with rising fuel and food costs

·3 min read
Operating costs at Edmonton's Food Bank are up 20 to 30 per cent from last year.  (Jane Robertson/CBC - image credit)
Operating costs at Edmonton's Food Bank are up 20 to 30 per cent from last year. (Jane Robertson/CBC - image credit)

The soaring price of groceries and fuel means more people are struggling to pay basic expenses and fewer people are able to help those who need it most.

Marjorie Bencz, executive director of Edmonton's Food Bank, said with the high price of fuel, it costs 20 to 30 per cent more to run their operations.

"If you could have a sword with more than two edges, that's kind of where we're heading," Bencz said. "If inflation affects everyone, including donors and businesses it's going to have an impact on our donor base, it affects our clients."

The demand for hampers in Edmonton went up more than 20 per cent from last spring. Edmonton's Food Bank supplied 26,000 hampers in the year ending March 2021, and that went up to 32,000 hampers this past March.

"Our numbers were extremely high, the highest we've ever seen," Bencz told CBC News Thursday.

The price of gas is also hurting the food bank.

"It will be a while before groups like the food bank and everyone starts to really feel the ramifications of that," Bencz said. "In Alberta, where you can see $2/litre for fuel pretty soon, I mean, this is something all of us are dreading."

Few transportation alternatives exist for the non-profit, which relies on large trucks to pick up and deliver food.

After inflation hit a 30-year high in May, the Bank of Canada raised its benchmark interest rate to 1.5 per cent earlier this week following an increase in April.

The high cost of goods is prompting many to question their spending habits and scrutinize the state of their finances.

Look back

The Credit Counselling Society, a national non-profit organization, offers advice to those looking to improve how they manage money and debt.

Mason Cox, a program manager, said the society has been getting more requests from people around the country, including in Edmonton and Alberta.

"We're getting busy," Cox said in an interview with CBC News Thursday.

He helps people sort out their priorities to strike a balance between paying off debt and putting food on the table.

One piece of advice — take time to review bank account entries.

"Look at where you've spent money over the last little bit and then you have to ask yourself, 'am I okay with that?" he said. "If I'm not, what adjustments do I have to make to make sure I'm hitting what I need?"

Everyone has basics to look after, what he calls non-negotiable items in their budgets, but smaller expenses can add up.

"Most people know off the top of their head what they spend on gas, groceries, their rent or mortgage payments and stuff like that," Cox said. 'But it's those small expenses that we just completely forget about."

When counselling families, for example, Cox asks them if they've considered how much they spend on sending their kids to their friends' birthday parties. Often, people don't factor those events in their budgets, he noted.

"I'm sure we'd all be surprised that there were a few expenses in there that we hadn't calculated for or that we had completely forgotten."

As experts predict the price of fuel and inflation will continue to stay high, the food bank is looking at working more with community groups to boost programs like collective kitchens and community gardening.

"With the goal of enhancing people's overall food security, that work might look different over time," Bencz said.

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