Manitoba food banks faced record demand amidst challenges in 2023

Volunteers at Siloam Mission prepared a Thanksgiving meal for 700 people. Jordan Pearn

Manitoba food banks faced record demand amidst challenges in 2023, according to local organizations.

“We had the rising food prices, inflation, inflation, inflation, all of those things adding up to folks really struggling to be able to make ends meet this past year.” said Meaghan Erbus with Harvest Manitoba.

Erbus says she is reflecting on another record-breaking year for the food bank with November seeing a record 51,000 people served across the province.

“Since the pandemic. We’ve seen 150 per cent increase with 30 per cent over just this past year,” she said.

Over 40 per cent of people accessing the food bank are employed, which is 66 per cent more than in 2022 and more than half of first-time clients in Winnipeg are Ukrainian newcomers, according to the organization’s 2023 “Voices” report.

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The surge in demand is not the only thing putting pressure on the organizations, Erbus says.

“Unfortunately, this year we’re seeing our donations down in food donations as well as monetary donations. So, like many of our friends, we have needed some extra support, but we are concerned for the future to some extent,” she said.

Another organization that reported feeling the pinch in 2023 is Siloam Mission.

“It’s a balancing act as we see this higher need and kind of are working with similar, if not the same resources,” said CEO Tessa Blaikie-Whitecloud.

Whitecloud says about 600 people access Siloam’s drop-in service and many of those people are new.

Click to play video: 'Salvation Army still searching for donations'
Salvation Army still searching for donations

“That’s good in a way, because it means that other people are cycling out and getting supports that they need. But it also means that that need continues to happen in our city. So how do we start to get ahead of that?” she added.

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While one-off donations are down, there has been an increase in people donating their time to volunteer since the pandemic began, Whitecloud says.

Bob Hansen is one of those volunteers. “Being able to do charity work, being able to help with donations, help in any way is beneficial to everybody, I believe,” he said.

Hansen says he decided to help for December and he now plans to continue.

“My dad is now 80 years old and my mom as well… They’ve done a lot of charity work over their whole lives. As they’re getting older and their health begins to change. I’m beginning to take over that role for the family.”

When asked to sum up 2023, Whitecloud says it’s been contradictory. “The total joy of watching someone transform their life and the total heartache of watching people have drug poisoning events again and again and again.”

However, despite the challenging year, the charities remain hopeful for 2024.

“I believe in us because I think, as a city, we see these issues and we want them solved for our neighbour. And so together we can do it,” Whitecloud said.

Added Erbus, “I hope that that’s the trajectory for folks… and that there’s more money in the pockets of those that need it. And I hope that the numbers for food banks decrease. We need it to happen. It’s utmost important right now for the numbers to decrease.”

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— With files from Global’s Iris Dyck


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