Working Quebec family can’t make ends meet on $2,500 a month. They’re not alone

Click to play video: 'Working Quebec family can’t make ends meet. They’re not alone'
Working Quebec family can’t make ends meet. They’re not alone
WATCH: With the current food insecurity crisis, Canadians are turning to food banks in record numbers – including those whose main source of income is from a job. As Global's Gloria Henriquez reports, experts are calling it a perfect storm – Mar 26, 2024

This story is part of an ongoing Global News series called Slammed: Montreal’s Food Bank Crisis, which explores how these non-profits are straining under increased need.

Monday is food distribution day at Cuisine et vie collectives St-Roch, a community organization in Montreal’s Parc-Extension neighbourhood.

As a long line stretched outside the building, the inside was a beehive of activity, with employees and volunteers like Fatema Kanig readying food baskets for pickup.

Kanig wears a big smile on her face, hiding the fact that she’s tired.

In addition to her paid job at a local CLSC health clinic, Kanig said she volunteers at two community organizations in exchange for some food.

It’s how she helps her family of three, including her husband and 16-year-old son, make ends meet.

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She supplements what she gets at the food bank with staples she buys herself, like fish and rice.

“It’s very, very expensive,” she said.

Both Kanig and her husband work, but with a combined monthly income of $2,500 it’s just not enough.

Forty per cent of those earnings go towards paying rent for their two-bedroom apartment but that doesn’t include hydro bills.

“It’s very hard,” Kanig said. And now, the stress is starting to take a toll on the family.

“Three people are very (depressed),” she said.

Click to play video: 'Montreal food banks see sharp jump in demand'
Montreal food banks see sharp jump in demand

Kanig is part of what the Public Health Agency of Canada describes as the working poor or those who, despite having jobs, “are struggling to make ends meet.”

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Food Banks Canada’s 2023 hunger count showed that Kanig is not alone, with food bank use among people who are employed reaching record levels.

“In 2023, 17 per cent of food bank clients reported employment as their main source of income, compared to 12 per cent in 2019,” the report reads.

According to Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax, inflation and high interest rates are what is pushing more Canadians to seek help.

“There’s a perfect storm out there impacting a lot of families,” Charlebois said.

While Canada’s food inflation rate is one of the lowest in the world, Charlebois  said food prices in the country still increased significantly and very rapidly, while salaries did not.

“We’re really at the crossroads right now when it comes to food affordability. I actually do think that at some point, people will have to make different choices, and they are making different choices,” Charlebois said.

According to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian is spending less than $250 a month on groceries. That’s a 19-per cent decrease compared to January 2021.

Charlebois believes people are compromising on nutrition and will likely have to continue doing so in the near future.

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“We are expecting to finish the year, around that sweet spot of 1.5 to 2.5 per cent (food inflation). But that’s still way above last year’s prices. So families will still have to cope with higher food prices no matter what.”

Anne Allary, a member of the board of directors at Cuisine et vie collectives St-Roch, has seen the impacts of the perfect storm play out in real time.

Demand for food assistance increased dramatically in the fall, she said.

“It was so big that we had a problem,” she said. “There was a riot and everybody wants to come in and we have to have an intervention from the police to calm everything.”

Police were called again in February but Allary said some procedural changes were made and things are calmer.

The organization gives out around 150 baskets a week and alternates weeks between its 300 clients. But like other community groups in the neighbourhood, they’ve had to turn people away.

“There’s a huge need,” Allary said.

And while some of those asking for food assistance are from the middle class, she said most are new immigrants.

Their needs, she said, pose unique challenges and community groups in the neighbourhood have asked the government for more funding to help meet the demand.


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