Manitoulin mirrors national trend as food bank needs increase

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Summer of 2022 expected to be toughest food banks have ever experienced

MINDEMOYA—While food banks are stretched thin as food prices rise, increasing hunger and food insecurity, it is expected that the summer of 2022 will be the toughest summer food banks have ever experienced. This is not at all unexpected, according to the executive director of Manitoulin Family Resources (MFR), Marnie Hall.

“We have seen an increase in the number of users of our food bank since the pandemic started,” said Ms. Hall. “It is not good news, but it isn’t a surprise either. I think this will be continuing for the foreseeable future.”

“With costs going up, we’re seeing more people in, new people, and people who have not used the food bank for several years,” said Ms. Hall. “We are seeing requests from people (for assistance from the food bank) part-way through the month, where in the past they would be able to offset their needs for the month. We provide as much support as we can, and we can at times if there is an emergency. But yes, (the food bank) is having to sustain more people.”

“I thought it was interesting at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that Food Banks Canada felt that all of this would happen,” said Ms. Hall. “They had predicted the affects of the pandemic would affect individuals and families 18 months after the pandemic started. And now we are seeing this happen.”

“We are so fortunate we received provincial funding last year for construction of a new and larger food bank and thrift shop,” said Ms. Hall. “We will be opening our new food bank in the next few weeks.” With more room in this new food bank, “we were able to purchase commercial grade freezers and refrigerators. The funding was a godsend and we will be needing the expanded facility.”

A new phone survey poll taken by Food Banks Canada, conducted by Mainstreet Research, indicates seven million Canadians report going hungry with nearly one in five Canadians reporting they had gone hungry, at some point, over the past two years. Twenty three percent of Canadians report eating “less than they should” due to rising inflation and not having enough money for food, and 61 percent believe the cost of housing is now the biggest contributor to food insecurity in Canada. More Canadians report that they are facing hunger and food insecurity due to rising inflation and housing access.

“This summer will be the toughest Canada’s food banks have ever experienced in our 41-year history,” explained Food Bank Canada’s newly appointed CEO Kirstin Beardsley. “The majority of food banks in every region of Canada are already stretched to their limits, with demand expected to remain high throughout the summer months as more Canadians struggle to cope with rising inflation.”

According to Ms. Beardsley, 61 percent of Canadians now believe that rising housing costs are the biggest barrier that is preventing Canadians from being able to afford food and this has doubled over the past year alone.

One in five Canadians (seven million people) report going hungry at least once between March 2020-March 2022. One in three Canadians who earn less than $50,000 a year, report instances of not having enough money for food between March 2020-March 2022.

“When you see some food items in the stores having gone up in price from $2.99 to $7.99, if you only have $100 to buy groceries for a month, this isn’t going to last very long,” said Ms. Hall. “It gets to the point people have to decide if they drive to the grocery store whether they are going to choose between putting gas in the car or buying food. And it’s like that for all us who are privileged to have a job and an income. It is far worse for those people who are at greater risk.”

Ms. Hall also said, “it is important that members of the community realize that the phone survey just conducted is great and it provides an indication of how things are for members of the general public. But those people who don’t have access to a phone are already excluded from the survey. The most marginalized persons have been left out, (homeless and those living in a park).”

Typically, food banks across Canada see an easing of demand during the summer months, but according to Ms. Beardsley, food bankers on the frontlines are reporting no signs of slowdowns.

“Food banks in most regions of Canada are experiencing an influx of Canadians visiting food banks for the first time, a number that’s increased by up to 25 percent in some regions, which we haven’t seen since the first few months of the pandemic,” explained Ms. Beardsley, adding that food banks are also reporting that they are seeing former food bank clients forced to return, after five or more years of not having to rely on food banks to get by. This is also Ms. Hall’s observation on Manitoulin.

“The biggest sign that inflation is seriously impacting hunger and food security in Canada is that the reasons why people say they are coming to food banks is changing,” said Ms. Beardsley. “In the past, people would turn to food banks during times of job loss, or due to lower wages, but over the past six months, Canadians are telling us that they are running out of money for food because of rising housing, gas, energy and food costs. That’s an indication that we need to find new longer-term solutions to fight hunger and food insecurity.”

“Canada’s outdated social reforms are failing to keep pace with the new pressures of inflation and dramatically rising housing costs that are affecting every region of the country,” said Ms. Beardsley. “Fewer people are in a position to donate because their budgets are stretched. They might not need a food bank, but still don’t have the money to donate food or funds to the food banks,” added Ms. Beardsley.

Statistics Canada reports consumers paid 9.7 percent more for food at stores in April compared with a year ago, the largest increase since September 1981.