GUYSBOROUGH – Gas prices are shocking motorists every time they pull up to the pump. As of June 10, the latest hike has brought regular gasoline up to $2.16 per litre. Following the rise in gas prices is the cost of groceries. In rural areas, where almost everyone has to drive a substantial distance to get to both a gas station and a grocery store, this one-two punch hits especially hard. Guysborough County food banks are feeling the impact of rising prices, with increased usage, dwindling budgets and stories of need in the communities they serve.
Volunteers at the Mulgrave Food Pantry, located at the Mulgrave and Area Medical Centre, told The Journal they were seeing more use of the service in recent weeks. Although due to the 24/7 open access to the pantry, volunteers can’t determine how many people are using the resource; they do see how quickly the shelves become empty.
“We generally stock about twice a week and things would not always be gone. Sometimes we could have made it stretch to once a week but now, I just stocked it yesterday and I checked it this morning and it’s pretty much devastated. And we’re having people reach out to us personally and through the email address [firstname.lastname@example.org] inquiring about when it will be restocked and commenting in those inquiries that the price of gas is a factor for them to access other food banks because of their availability. We’re open 24/7 every day, and other foodbanks have limited hours,” said one volunteer who wished not to be named to maintain the anonymity of the food panty.
The food pantry volunteers said they don’t want to rely on community donations to keep the food pantry stocked. “When the community itself is tapped, everyone is experiencing the crunch.”
The pantry has received funding from the community health board and the Department of Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage, “But it’s not enough and, with the prices increasing…our budget is going very quickly. What we could get for $400 on a [grocery] haul is much less than a year ago,” said a volunteer.
When asked what government could do to help when so many people are finding the cost of food and fuel difficult to balance, a pantry volunteer said, “I think if the government could support all food pantries and foodbanks with the same amount of funding would be helpful, first of all, because when the money is gone, the money is gone…Other than capping prices, which would be beneficial to everybody, increasing minimum wage; there are much bigger issues here.”
And the volunteers are very concerned about what the coming winter will bring if prices remain high or even increase, “when people have to start paying for heat.”
The Town of Mulgrave recreation department has actively sought out programs and grants to help increase food security. This summer, through a program funded by the Department Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage, plans are moving ahead to expand the community garden located at the Mulgrave Memorial Centre.
Heather Reid, Mulgrave’s acting recreation and physical activity coordinator, said last year the garden “allowed us to supply fresh vegetables to families, seniors and to our local food pantry. We’re hoping to expand on that.”
Funding from the same program will also go towards a project called Eating Well as We Age, directed at seniors in Mulgrave. Reid said, “It is designed to help them with healthy eating. It probably won’t get off the ground until August.”
Under this program, packages of food with recipes will be delivered to seniors’ homes, “for them to cook themselves a healthy lunch. We’re going to try to source a lot of the fresh vegetables from our community garden and some local farmers. We’ve reached out to a local nutritionist, so she’s going to give us some resources and tips on recipes to use,” said Reid.
On the other end of the county, Catherine MacNeil of the Rainbow Foodbank in Sheet Harbour sent the following assessment of the situation in that area via email: “Our greatest foodbank challenges are the price of groceries and transportation. It is difficult when those in need of [the] foodbank cannot get here to access the help. Also, we are continuing to see numbers increase in the need for help with groceries.”
Elizabeth Connolly, secretary for the Guysborough and Area Food Bank in Guysborough, which serves from Monastery to Canso, told The Journal last week that the number of clients has not risen much in recent months.
“We’re not really seeing an increase in clients and, if we do, we’re here for them,” said Connolly.
One recent noticeable difference at the Guysborough foodbank is the pick-up of combined orders by clients — where one client calls and asks that another be allowed to pick up their order.
Connolly said, as far funding goes, the foodbank receives some government money and, “The public is very good to us; we can afford to get what we need.”
Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal