Edmonton charities feel the pinch as inflation swells to 18-year high

·3 min read
Volunteers at the food truck run by Canadian Volunteers United in Action (CANAVUA) in Edmonton prepare meals for 300 to 350 people each day their truck is open. (Supplied by Dicky Dikamba - image credit)
Volunteers at the food truck run by Canadian Volunteers United in Action (CANAVUA) in Edmonton prepare meals for 300 to 350 people each day their truck is open. (Supplied by Dicky Dikamba - image credit)

As inflation in Canada climbs to its highest rate in nearly two decades, charities are finding it harder to feed some of Edmonton's most vulnerable populations.

In the last year alone, food prices have increased by four per cent, according to Statistics Canada.

"When prices go up, it makes affording healthy food harder, if not even impossible for many households and families," said Kristine Kowalchuk, spokesperson for Food for Thought, a non-profit program that provides food for hungry schoolchildren in Edmonton.

During COVID-19, the cost for many food items has grown significantly.

From September 2019 to September 2020, the cost of meat has noticeably increased with chicken shooting up by 12 per cent and bacon by 17 per cent.

John Robertson / CBC
John Robertson / CBC

The cost of cooking oil has also surged in the last two years by 24 per cent, according to Statistics Canada. However, one Edmonton charity said the price locally has almost doubled.

At the start of the pandemic, the non-profit Canadian Volunteers United in Action (CANAVUA) paid $21 for a 16-litre jug of canola cooking oil.Today, it costs $39.

"It's too much," said Dicky Dikamba, executive director of CANAVUA.

The francophone charity feeds roughly more than 1,000 people per week. The organization also has a food truck, which drives to different locations in the city to provide hot meals to anyone who needs them.

While prices have increased, Dikamba said government funding has also dried up.

"It's not easy, but we are still working."

Average monthly price of food products in Canada

One of the driving factors behind increasing food costs is the rising price of gas, which affects food transportation costs, said Chetan Dave, economics professor at the University of Alberta, in an email to CBC.

In the last year alone, gas prices have shot up more than 30 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.

One of the main factors driving inflation is supply chain shortages caused by the pandemic, he said.

Rising gas prices have significantly increased the cost of food deliveries for Edmonton's Food Bank. The organization, which is Canada's oldest food bank, feeds at least 20,000 people per month in the city.

Costs could spur change

Food bank manager of strategic relationships and partnerships Tamisan Bencz-Knight said on CBC Edmonton's Radio Active, it will be harder for many Edmontonians to stretch their dollars and pay for necessities.

"We anticipate some of those individuals may have to cough, which is fine. This is why we're here as an organization."

The surging food prices this fall comes after a summer of widespread drought across Western Canada.

"We're in this situation right now where crops are failing. Farmers are going bankrupt," said Kristine Kowalchuk, spokesperson for Food for Thought.

She hopes the threat of climate change will spur change and make food production more resilient and sustainable.

"What we need desperately is a wholesale shift away from that kind of food system toward one that is healthy and local."

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