As the price of groceries continues to climb, food banks in Hamilton say they are noticing an uptick in requests for food assistance and other needs.
"We've seen an increased demand for food, which always rises in the summer historically, but this year, we're seeing that just happening quicker," Shani Doherty, program manager at St. Matthew's House, told CBC Hamilton.
"The food that we purchase, of course, is getting more expensive also."
Food prices have risen by 9.7 per cent in the past year, while shelter costs are up by 7.4 per cent, Statistics Canada reported in May. The cost of living has been climbing at the fastest pace in decades, with Canada's official inflation rate rising at a 6.8 per cent annual pace in April, a new 31-year high.
Meanwhile, a new survey suggests a growing number of Canadians are struggling with the rising cost of food as prices for basics like pasta, bread and meat all soar. The poll from Food Banks Canada indicates hunger and food insecurity are increasing across the country, with lower-income Canadians hit hardest by inflation.
Doherty says St. Matthew's House is a small operation and the clientele is made up mainly of senior citizens.
"It's not the same people that call in every month. Last month, for example, I noticed lots of people that I had never put down on the sheet before," Doherty said.
"Rising rents, rising food costs — that's what we're hearing everywhere. If you're not in affordable housing, you're looking at massive rent increases for new units, and fixed incomes just don't cover it."
'Every single age group gets impacted'
It's a similar situation at Stoney Creek Community Food Bank. Interim manager Shirley Vandenberg says the number of people seeking assistance from the organization has "gone up 25 per cent in the last couple of weeks," she said.
"We have definitely noticed that recently there has been a significant increase in the number of clients that are coming and needing our services... Many of these clients will also comment on the cost of food, gas. We have many, many [clients who] usually get rides for somebody else to come.
"Every week it's gone up for us."
Stoney Creek Community Food Bank serves about 160 households per month, but Vandenberg says between Monday and Wednesday of this week, they had already registered 55 households.
"Every single age group gets impacted — from families with children, families with young children, families with grade school children. We have some students who go to either Mohawk College or to McMaster University who are really on tight budgets, who also have registered," Vandenberg said.
"We certainly have senior citizens as well and one of the communities that we do get quite a few of are individuals who got disabled [after a workplace incident] ... We have a significant number of single men who are in that situation."
Vandenberg says the food bank has also been registering new Ukrainian refugees who have found new homes within the Stoney Creek area.
At the Good Shepherd Centre, director Carmen Salciccioli says the number of households served in May was up 13 per cent compared to May last year.
"With the rising cost of food, some individuals and families are having to make the decision, 'do I pay rent or do I buy food?' To give you an example, our normal number of households going through our marketplace is about 120, and it spiked up to 157 [this Monday].
"Some individuals and families are having to make the decision, 'do I pay rent or do I buy food?'" - Good Shepherd Centre Director Carmen Salciccioli
"If this continues, if the spikes continue, then really we're going to have to make a choice: Do we sort of help everybody in a diminished way or do we create a number that we can sustain in our normal way, where people get whatever they need or as best as we can provide? Hopefully, hopefully we can keep that at bay a little bit, but we'll have to see when we get to that point," he added.
On the donor side, Salciccioli says they are also seeing a decrease in non-perishable food items.
"Donors are being affected because they have to buy the items to donate to us. So, we're getting less of those."
Hamilton Food Share, which distributes food to 16 agencies in Ontario, is also feeling the inflation pinch.
"Food's up around 10 per cent. You look at transportation, 36 per cent. Those are our two biggest cost centres," CEO Joanne Santucci told CBC News.
"We go out and we get a lot of donated food but we also have to purchase where those gaps are. On top of that, transportation, that's how our food gets here. We have a fleet of trucks that go out every day across southwestern Ontario, across Hamilton — wherever those donations are and wherever the offers are. So, we are concerned at this point."
Santucci says Hamilton Food Share will be doing what most businesses are doing to deal with inflation.
"We'll cut back where we can on our own expenses, and we're going to reach out to our community partners and other people in that community who have always been there for the food banks, always been there for our neighbours in need," she said.
"That's where we're going to start, and we're going to retool and adjust things as we go along."