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‘Perfect storm’: Canadian charities feeling inflation pinch ahead of holiday season

Click to play video: 'Charities concerned as holidays near'
Charities concerned as holidays near
WATCH: Charities concerned as holidays near – Oct 19, 2022

As the festive holiday season approaches, decades-high inflation is dampening the spirit for many Canadian charities struggling with rising costs, increased demand and shrinking donations this year.

Charities across the country are feeling the pinch as Canadians struggle to make ends meet and rein back on charitable contributions. This coupled with more people turning for help has created a “perfect storm,” said Jane Ricciardelli, chief operating officer and acting CEO at CanadaHelps.

“This has been a very challenging year for Canadian charities as many are facing similar economic strains that individual Canadians are facing when it comes to economic uncertainty and the rising cost of living,” she told Global News.

Read more: Half of Canadians prefer a charitable gift this holiday season over material items, poll finds

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The Salvation Army, a Christian organization that supports 400 communities across Canada, said that last year it distributed Christmas hampers and toys to almost 350,000 families.

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Overall, the group provided 3.7 million meals, helping 2.6 million Canadians in 2021, said Lt.-Col. John Murray, national spokesperson for the Salvation Army in Canada.

“This year, we’re down about 20 per cent on our fundraising so far,” he told Global News.

Click to play video: 'Salvation Army launches 2022 Christmas Kettle Campaign'
Salvation Army launches 2022 Christmas Kettle Campaign

There are also concerns about fewer volunteers helping with the annual Salvation Army Christmas Kettle Campaign, Murray said.

“When we don’t have as many people manning or standing hosting a kettle (it) means that people can’t make a donation, thus … we have less donations coming in.”

It’s a similar situation across the country.

Helping Our Northern Neighbours (HONN) is a group that collects and sends supplies to Indigenous people living in remote areas in Canada’s north.

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Jennifer Gwilliam, founder of HONN, said inflation has “severely affected” their ability to help northern communities as more people are in need of basic necessities, but there are not enough resources to deliver.

“Every day, we have sponsors and helpers apologizing for the fact that they must stop helping for the time being as they have to put their own family first,” she told Global News in an interview last month.

“Even those who are staying are struggling trying to continue to help as prices increase.”

Click to play video: '45% of Canadians concerned about holiday spending costs: Ipsos poll'
45% of Canadians concerned about holiday spending costs: Ipsos poll

Food bank use soars

Meanwhile, demand has risen sharply at food banks in Canada.

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A report from Food Banks Canada released in October showed an all-time high of nearly 1.5 million visits to food banks across the country in March.

Another report by Feed Ontario showed a 24 per cent increase in the number of people accessing a food bank in the province this year compared with 2021, with the cost of food and housing cited as the main reasons for seeking help. One in three food bank users sought assistance for the first time, the report published in November said.

Read more: Food bank usage across Canada hit all time high, nearly 1.5M visits in March, report says

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Feed Ontario says inventory that would usually last two to three months is gone after a few weeks now.

“Donors who would normally give to the food bank and support financially no longer have that available income to support it and in some circumstances, donors have turned into actual food bank visitors,” said Carolyn Stewart, executive director for Feed Ontario.

Children pictured here at a school nutrition program. Canadian Feed The Children

In Iqaluit, the Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre has reported a 12 per cent jump in demand every month this year.

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“Last summer … we averaged between 100 to 150 meals per day. Right now we’re seeing between 400 to 500 meals per day,” executive director Richard Blais said in a previous interview.

According to the latest inflation numbers from Statistics Canada, food prices were up 10.1 per cent in October, down slightly from the 10.3 per cent hike in September.

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Many staples saw major year-over-year hikes: the cost of dry or fresh pasta was up 44.8 per cent; margarine cost 40.4 per cent more; and soup was 18.4 per cent more expensive.

Deana Shaw, vice-president of philanthropy at Canadian Feed The Children, said inflation is not only impacting how much food can be bought at stores but also how far donations can stretch, especially when it comes to delivering food.

Canadian Feed The Children says they are in high need of support for their community soup kitchen program. Gift cost is $65. Canadian Feed The Children

Shaw said their total online donations are 15 per cent behind compared with last year.

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“We need more donations to provide the same number of meals this year to children and families,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Food bank use soars amid inflation: Report'
Food bank use soars amid inflation: Report

Where is the holiday spirit?

Inflationary pressures that have made it difficult for Canadians to buy groceries and property and pay for gas are also affecting how people celebrate the holidays this year, polling shows.

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In an Ipsos poll done exclusively for Global News last month, 30 per cent of Canadians said they will rein in their gift shopping this holiday season and spend less compared with previous years. Nearly half the respondents (45 per cent) said they are worried about being able to afford holiday presents for loved ones this year.

Read more: As inflation runs hot, Canadians plan to cool spending on holiday gifts, poll finds

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But still, people are in a giving mood, as 47 per cent said they would prefer a charitable gift – a donation made in their honour or a gift card – instead of a traditional gift, according to another Ipsos poll published last month.

That same poll conducted for CanadaHelps also reported that 20 per cent of Canadians expect to cut back on their donations and 22 per cent don’t plan to give to charities at all this year.

Almost one in four surveyed are also expecting to turn to essential charitable services for needs such as food, clothing or shelter in the next six months – up from 14 per cent in January.

Click to play video: 'Your Money: Unique ways to give back this holiday season'
Your Money: Unique ways to give back this holiday season

Rubina Ahmed-Haq, a personal finance expert, said if money is tight, Canadians can consider cutting their monthly charitable donations rather than cancelling them completely or help out in other ways, such as volunteering and organizing toy drives at home.

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“Even finding 20, 30 dollars that you can give to your favourite cause or charity, that’s going to go a long way,” she said.

For those donating, it’s also helpful to get a tax break, so make sure to donate to a registered charity in Canada, Ahmed-Haq said.

“Definitely talk to your tax professional or go on the CRA website to make sure that you do qualify for that tax benefit.”

— with files from Mike Drolet, Melissa Ridgen and Craig Lord

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