In the face of rising food prices, one Westman food bank is experiencing usage levels it has never seen before.
Amanda Naughton-Gale runs the food bank at the Salvation Army in Neepawa, 74 kilometres northeast of Brandon. In a phone interview with the Sun, she said food bank usage normally drops in summertime due to people gaining seasonal employment and gardening, but this year there has been a marked increase, likely related to the high cost of living.
"The cost of gas, the cost of food … just everything in general. It’s harder to stretch your dollar as much as you were able to before."
Naughton-Gale said the food bank is having trouble keeping up with demand, though it did receive help from the federal government, which in 2020 announced up to $100 million through the Emergency Food Security Fund to distribute to Canadian food banks and other national food rescue organizations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Thank goodness we had [that] funding," she said. "That’s basically something we haven’t needed to do before."
Typically, the community’s food drive, held in May, would have provided enough donations to last the food bank through the summer. It’s not that people in Neepawa aren’t donating, it’s just that the dollar doesn’t stretch as far as it used to.
"Our community is super generous, but everybody’s feeling the pinch," Naughton-Gale said. "If you would typically set aside $20 to help support the food bank, that $20 is now getting you a few items as opposed to a bagful of items."
Last year the food bank experienced a 60 per cent increase in usage, and this year it’s up 30 to 40 per cent from that. Naughton-Gale said it’s an alarming trend to see.
"We will do the best that we can to ensure that nobody goes hungry in our community, but it is concerning."
Linda Bertram, who helps run the Minnedosa United Church’s food bank, located 48 kilometres north of Brandon, also said usage has grown at their location. Thankfully, donations are still coming in.
Local businesses are also doing their part to alleviate the situation. The Minnedosa Co-op grocery store currently has prepared bags of non-perishable food for sale that go directly to the food bank.
"People are buying those bags, but not to the same degree they would have done it around Christmas," Bertram said.
At the Wawanesa Food Bank, located 53 kilometres southeast of Brandon, Shirley McBurney is doing her best to facilitate food for those in need. She has been running the food bank from her business, Lucy’s Flowers and Gifts, for nearly 10 years. This summer, she said, more people are using the service than ever before.
"Usage has definitely gone up. Even since COVID — it went up during that, and with the prices going up, we’ve seen quite a rise."
Fortunately, people in Wawanesa have been quite generous with donations of food and money.
Guy Smith, a volunteer with the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul at St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church in Brandon, said he has noticed a distinct uptick in the number of people who use the service over the last 24 months.
The organization would normally distribute 25 to 50 hampers per week, and now it’s somewhere between 50 to 75.
"We’re still getting significant donations. Obviously we need more … because the cost of the products has gone up dramatically, and also our numbers have gone up dramatically. But we are getting very good support."
The food bank run by the Salvation Army Brandon Corps has been closed since Monday and won’t reopen until July 25. Maria Ducharme, business administrator at the church, said this is because three of the organization’s four employees are on two-week holidays.
Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun