P.E.I. food banks serving growing number of newcomers

Newcomers are presenting unique challenges for P.E.I.'s Upper Room Food Bank. About 13 per cent of the clientele at the food bank are now newcomers.

Mike MacDonald, executive director of the Upper Room Hospitality Ministry, says the majority of the newcomers who he sees coming through the doors are refugees, primarily the Syrian refugees who moved to the Island a couple of years ago.  

MacDonald made his comments during a legislative standing committee looking at the issue of poverty on the Island. 

"It certainly presents some challenges to us, the first one being communications," said MacDonald, who has worked with the food bank for nearly 20 years.

"The other is ensuring [we give] them the food that they need, giving them a can of vegetables or a box of Kraft dinner or something is not what they are looking for. They are looking for whole foods, fresh foods. They are looking for bags of flour and fresh vegetables."

Basic income not for everybody

The committee has been tasked with developing a costed plan for a basic income pilot project in P.E.I., as well as coming up with clear definitions and measures of poverty and a living wage.

Nancy Russell/CBC

The committee was told to have its report back to the legislature by July. 

MacDonald said a basic income may not benefit everybody. 

"There are many people that we see that this would be life-changing. There are other people who may struggle because of it," he said.

"We do see many people with addictions issues that as soon as they have money and funds in their pockets, unfortunately they are not talking about food, they are not thinking about shelter. Their addiction is taking over and they are servicing their addiction." 

Need is great 

The food bank serves 525 families a month, or about 1,600 people. More than 40 per cent of the clientele are under the age of 18.

Randy McAndrew/CBC

The Upper Room Soup Kitchen serves 3,500 meals per month. It is open seven days a week.

MacDonald said housing, employment and medical issues, both physical and mental health, are the main reasons people seek help from the food bank and soup kitchen. He said the faces may change, but the stories behind them are consistent.

"We're always seeing single parent families and two parent families and we see seniors," he said. "I guess the biggest increase would be people new to our country. That has certainly increased over the last number of years."

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