FREDERICTON – Food bank operators in Atlantic Canada say the number of people leaving the region in search of work is a major factor behind the decline in food bank use last year.
Nationally, food bank use increased 1.3 per cent, but the annual Hunger Count report shows decreases of 8.1 per cent in Prince Edward Island, 3.1 per cent in New Brunswick and 5.9 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador. There was no change in Nova Scotia when the survey was conducted in March.
George Piers, president of the New Brunswick Association of Food Banks, said people are packing up and moving to find work.
“For instance, in the area in which I live, there are three families who left — I believe they went to Saskatchewan — that had used food banks for a few years,” he said.
He said the provincial government needs to help create jobs so people don’t have to leave.
“They have to be sustainable jobs, not just call centres that open and then close,” Piers said.
Egbert Walters, general manager of the Community Food Sharing Association in Newfoundland and Labrador, said an exodus of skilled workers who took jobs in the western oilpatch also contributed to lower food bank use in his province.
However, he said there has been a flood of people returning in recent months because of layoffs in the West. Walters said he expects that will result in an increase in food bank use next year.
“I think you’re probably going to see a seven or eight per cent, or as high as a nine per cent increase over last year, which would basically put it on par with the year before,” he said.
Prince Edward Island saw the biggest drop in food bank use in the region.
Mike MacDonald, general manager of the Upper Room Soup Kitchen and Food Bank in Charlottetown, said he has also seen food bank users leaving the province.
“There are a lot of individuals that either pack up completely and go to Ontario or go west, but we also see a number of families that either mom or dad go and the rest of the family stays,” he said.
MacDonald said the statistics may have been affected by the weather. Bad storms forced the food bank to be closed for a number of days in March when the annual Hunger Count was completed.
All three men said they are concerned by the number of children now using food banks — almost 36 per cent nationally.
As well, they said the expected influx of Syrian refugees won’t have an impact on the region’s food banks.
“They shouldn’t really in the beginning because they are subsidized considerably by government and private people who are sponsoring them,” Piers said.
New Brunswick is expecting to accept about 1,500 Syrian immigrants, P.E.I. will take 100 families, while specific numbers have not been released for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.