Food bank visits in B.C. increasing more than national average — and organizers fear they'll keep rising

The report cites high inflation and low social assistance as top contributors for food insecurity in the country. (Rafferty Baker/CBC - image credit)
The report cites high inflation and low social assistance as top contributors for food insecurity in the country. (Rafferty Baker/CBC - image credit)

The number of visits to food banks in British Columbia is increasing even more than the national average, according to a Food Banks Canada report.

The report says figures for March increased by 25 per cent compared to the same month last year, higher than the average rise across Canada of 15 per cent.

Of almost 1.5 million visits to food banks across the country in March 2022, more than 163,000 were in B.C., the report found.

"The numbers are jarring ... but it's not coming to us as a surprise," said Daniel Huang-Taylor, executive director of Food Banks B.C.

Huang-Taylor said the main contributors to food insecurity in the province over the past year include high inflation and displacement from natural disasters like wildfires and flooding.

He says their client profile shows a worrying trend, with an increase in visits from marginalized people, including Indigenous people, immigrants and refugees, and people with disabilities.

He says more students are also accessing food bank services in the province. A recent report from the University of British Columbia's student society shows an almost 500 per cent increase in visits to its student food bank.

The report also found one in three people who access a food bank is a child.

Huang-Taylor said food banks are serving individuals who have full-time jobs and households where both parents are working.

Donations down

On top of an increased demand, donations to food banks in the province are down.

"We have seen donations drop. In some cases we're hearing up to 30 per cent. And that's not just for funds, that's food as well," said Huang-Taylor.

But he said food banks have been resilient and found ways to stretch their money to continue supporting their clients.

"The cost of food banking has gone up, and that has just meant more food banks have had to be very careful with how they're using their funds."

Huang-Taylor said the busiest time of year for food banks is winter — which is also when they're deeply reliant on donors.

"That demand is likely going to be higher this year than it has ever been," he said.

Local food banks

Don Armstrong, manager of food service programming at the Salvation Army in Chilliwack, B.C., said the number of people using its food bank has tripled over the past year.

It's now serving around 4,000 people a month, said Armstrong, who says he has never seen demand this high in the almost four decades he has been working in food banks in the Fraser Valley city.

"We're seeing more moms with babies and seniors coming in that just can't afford the food pricing in the grocery stores," he said.

The Greater Vancouver Food Bank, which says it has seen an increase in visits of almost 30 per cent in the past year alone, is signing up approximately 1,000 new clients each month.

Since March, it's gotten "drastically worse," CEO David Long says.

That month, inflation jumped to almost seven per cent — on its way to an almost 40-year high of 8.1 per cent in June — and the Bank of Canada began a series of interest rate hikes in an attempt to cool it. Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February also put growing pressure on prices of food and resources.

"When the [financial] crash happened in 2008, food banks across Canada saw a 15 per cent increase that never went back down, so my concern is that this is going to become the new normal," Long said.

With increasing grocery prices, his team is working hard to ensure it can get food at a reasonable enough price to meet demand, including getting support from wholesalers and buying directly from farmers.

"It keeps you awake at night, to be honest. It's a huge responsibility," said Long.

"Where does this end? Where does it stop? What's next year going to bring?"