A Winnipeg non-profit will be receiving more than $400,000 worth of food as the federal government moves to improve food security several months into the COVID-19 pandemic.
Winnipeg Harvest says the $414,133 investment of surplus food will be distributed between September and December 2020 to more than 300 food banks across Manitoba.
“COVID-19 has created a surge in demand for food assistance in Manitoba, and we are grateful to the federal government for investing in Manitobans,” Karen Taylor-Hughes, Winnipeg Harvest CEO, said in a press release.
“Manitoba’s share of Food Banks Canada (FBC) funds will translate into 158,066 pounds of food, or 50 pounds of food for 3,161 families this fall.”
The money for the food — a large portion of which is high-protein meats such as bison, turkey, veal, fish and seafood — is coming from the Government of Canada Surplus Food Grant Program.
The program is a dual benefit for both food producers and those needing assistance since the money is earmarked for excess food, which otherwise may have gone to waste, explains Kirstin Beardsley with Food Banks Canada.
“We know the supply chain was affected by the pandemic; there were industries that saw excess that they couldn’t sell because the restaurants shut down, hospitality shut down, so there was these excesses in the system,” Beardsley said.
“So it’s allowing us to build up some of our stocks as we know people are going to be using and needing the food bank in the coming months.”
In fact, Beardsley says there are a number of concerning trends making her and others in the food banks network worried about what the future holds.
Although the initial spike in food bank use has plateaued since the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and other supports were introduced, she says they noticed a “huge” increase in the number of people accessing food banks who were first time users.
“Now that we know when the CERB is ending, our concern is that the Employment Insurance changes — that have just been announced and that we’re cautiously optimistic about — won’t be enough to keep folks out of the food banks,” Beardsley says.
“So we’re bracing for quite an impact in the coming months.”
She compares the rising use of food banks to what was seen during the 2008 economic recession, when usage shot up 28 per cent across the country but never went back down.
If government supports aren’t enough, “you can see what’s going to happen is those folks that deferred mortgage payments, who are using up their savings while they see if their jobs come back, that deferred hydro bills and things like that, it’s all going to be a bit of a reckoning,” Beardsley says.
“If the jobs don’t come back and the EI payments are even lower than the CERB, I think we’re going to see a lot more folks that are going to have to turn to a food bank to make ends meet.”
The money in the form of food heading to Manitoba is only a fraction of the $11,358,529 FBC is investing countrywide.
In the meantime, Beardsley is encouraging Canadians to continue donating and supporting food banks wherever they can, especially considering many volunteers have had to vacate their positions and donations have dipped since March.
“We’re going to need that support in the months ahead as more Canadians feel the economic effects that we anticipate are coming,” Beardsley says.
“We’re going to need as many Canadians out there to rally behind the food banks to make sure we’re able to respond to those community needs.”