A spike in inflation is likely going to make it harder for more Newfoundland and Labrador households to regularly get nutritious, affordable food, says a non-profit organization that advocates for better food security.
According to Food First N.L., almost 15 per cent of the province's households were already food insecure before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic as well as rising inflation and food prices are likely worsening the problem, says Food First N.L. CEO Josh Smee.
"We don't have good data yet on what it did to our food insecurity rates. But I think it's fair to say they will have jumped," said Smee.
In August, the inflation rate went up to 4.1 per cent — the highest level since 2003.
According to Smee, food prices have gone up around five per cent in 2021.
Jody Williams already feels the impacts first-hand.
Williams is manager of Bridges to Hope, a food bank in downtown St. John's that has been operating for 30 years.
Williams said he's seen a dramatic increase in first-time users recently.
Amid rising food prices, the food bank itself is struggling to procure food for its users, a situation that is being aggravated by fewer donations both from individuals and businesses.
"We went from having a model of 90 per cent of our food donated to having to buy all our food," said Williams.
"This model of buying food with the food prices going up is certainly not sustainable on our end.… I'm looking at the next few years and trying to figure out, what will that look like?"
The Northeast Avalon Food Bank in Torbay has been able to keep up with the demand for food hampers thanks to donations from local grocery stores and companies.
President Madonna Galway says they have been hardest-hit with regard to perishable foods such as eggs or meat.
"I'm … worried about Christmas now with turkeys being 60 and 70 dollars," said Galway.
"We've asked our councils to reach out to see if people would donate a turkey to the councils.… We can't afford to go out and buy 100 or 150 families of turkeys ourselves, being non-profit."
Galway says there has also been a decline in individual donations but she hopes that will change.
"Prayerfully, down the road people will donate perishables and stuff and will be able to give the full hampers all the time and not just wait around for Thanksgiving or Christmas for the full dinners," said Galway.
Smee doesn't expect the changes in food prices to be reversed in the near future.
Instead of trying to counteract the impact of higher food prices he thinks the issue should be addressed at its root; raising the minimum wage, says Smee, could take off some pressure.
"Food banks already are a Band-Aid solution. They can't meet the demand there is for food security in this province. And that's not what they're meant to do," said Smee.
"I think sometimes we think if the problem is food insecurity, the solution is giving people food, and that's not really the best way to go about it."
Back at Bridges to Hope, Williams is bracing for several Thanksgiving food drives.
He is not sure how long his food bank will be able to provide food to people if food prices continue to climb.
"We've been really lucky so far. We've been able to hang in there. But certainly I am really concerned about the next three to four years."
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