The Petrolia Food Bank has seen the demand for its services increase in the last few months. While the first half of 2022 was pretty steady, usage has increased by 35 percent between July and September and in the last two months, numbers have spiked. In the last four weeks, a total of 213 people have come in, said Manager Sandra Hartman of the Petrolia Food bank. This is compared to what she usually expects of between 100 and 120 clients for the same period. The price of groceries and cost of gas to get to and from work are two of things, which are stretching the budgets of those who are using the food bank. An increase in utility costs will further put pressure on household budgets, as we move into the winter months. Canada’s inflation rate sat at 6.9 percent in October, unchanged from September. Feed Ontario, the province’s largest collective of hunger relief organizations released its annual Hunger Report on Nov. 28. Between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022, over 587,000 people have accessed a food bank in Ontario. This amounts to more than 4.3 million visits to a food bank in a year. That is a 15 percent annual increase with a 42 percent increase over the last three years. This is the sixth consecutive year where food bank use has increased. Hartman said the amount of stock the food bank is giving away is going so fast. She purchased $500 worth of meat on Friday and it is already gone. The price of food is also having an affect on keeping the food bank stocked, saying all of that meat she purchased recently was on sale. “I make every penny stretch,” said Hartman, as she said every effort is made to help anyone in need. “I always find a way,” she said. She has seen people access the food bank recently who have never used the service before, while others have come back to the food bank who have not used the services in quite some time. One in three coming into food banks in Ontario have never used a food bank before, according to the Hunger Report. One new client arrived in tears recounted Hartman, but the volunteers try to joke with the clients. By the time the client left, she was smiling and laughing. Some clients have said the Petrolia Food Bank is so different from all the rest, said Hartman with pride, as it is very welcoming, realizing the stigma of accessing a food bank is still there. People often think the majority of the clients are on assistance. The bulk of the clientele are the working poor, pensioners and on the disability support program being the vast majority of the clientele base. Those accessing Ontario Works is a small number. “Something has to give,” said Hartman, as she looks to the future, and hopes some form of relief might be coming for those struggling day to day.
Blake Ellis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Independent