Ottawa Food Bank says it’s short on food: ‘Never seen anything like this’

Click to play video: 'Small budgets, rising costs affecting N.S. food banks this summer'
Small budgets, rising costs affecting N.S. food banks this summer
WATCH: Small budgets, rising costs affecting N.S. food banks this summer – Aug 17, 2023

The Ottawa Food Bank on Monday said it is being forced to cut shifts for volunteers due to a shortage of donated food — and it’s pointing to the impact of high food prices as a reason for the shortfall.

“We have sadly not received enough donated food in recent weeks to be sorted,” the food bank said in a post on social media.

“We recognize this as a sign that high food prices are understandably impacting donor habits,” the post added.

CEO Rachael Wilson told Global News in interview that typically, there’s enough food in the organization’s warehouse for 10 sorting shifts per week.

On Monday, she said the current food stock could be sorted in a single shift. Available sorting shifts have been cut in half, she added.

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“We’ve never seen anything like this,” she said.

The shortfall comes as demand continues to spike. Wilson said the food bank is on track to see a record half a million visits by the end of this year, up from over 400,000 visits in the previous fiscal year.

In order to keep up, Wilson said the food bank was forced to spend $900,000 of its own money — most of it donated and fundraised — in July, and could spend even more this month.

“We have to buy more and more food to keep up with demand,” she said.

The Ottawa Food Bank is not the only one that has seen struggles to meet demand in recent weeks.

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Earlier this month, the smaller Beacon House charity in Sackville, N.S., posted pictures of its food bank warehouse to social media and noted its shelves had never “been so bare,” adding it was “desperate” for donations.

The charity later said donors had stepped up, but was continuing to see a need for certain items like boxed cereal, juice and baby food.

Food prices are continuing to outpace overall inflation after seeing a massive spike since late last year. The price of groceries grew 8.5 per cent in July compared with last year, down from a 9.1-per cent year-over-year gain in June, according to Statistics Canada. That’s far down from the 3.3 headline inflation rate in July, which has significantly fallen from a high of more than eight per cent last year.

Not all charities are seeing those prices impact donations, however. The Calgary Food Bank said it was keeping up with demand, which is up 30 per cent year-over-year, and was currently sending out 700 hampers of food per day.

The Greater Vancouver Food Bank, meanwhile, has stopped accepting personal food donations and is relying solely on industry donations, including food rejected by retailers for cosmetic reasons or excess supply.

“We no longer accept food drives or donations from the public because the quality was so poor, and it took up valuable volunteer and staff time to address,” chief operating officer Cynthia Boulter​ told Global News in an email.

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“We have been fortunate with our supply of keen volunteers, both individuals and groups, and we offer them a regular schedule of warehouse, distribution and community agency support shifts, and some office shifts depending on the season.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton’s Food Bank struggling to meet need, hopes Heritage Festival will boost donations'
Edmonton’s Food Bank struggling to meet need, hopes Heritage Festival will boost donations

Wilson with the Ottawa Food Bank said part of the problem may be the lack of government funding in Ontario for food banks compared to other provinces.

Her organization is 98-per cent funded by the community, she said. The most recent fiscal year saw just $392,000 in government grants, out of over $27 million donated to the food bank.

By comparison, Food Banks BC received more than $2.2 million in government grants and funding last year according to its latest fiscal statement, and the Alberta government has earmarked $20 million over the next two years specifically to help food banks.

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Wilson said she remains hopeful the fall and winter months will see a holiday-fuelled increase in donations. But she admitted that her charity may only be able to survive another few years without a major funding influx.

“Buying most of the food ourselves, it’s just not sustainable,” she said.

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