As the increased cost of food continues to strain British Columbians, the Surrey Food Bank says it’s struggling to meet the increased demand for help.
Some 46,000 households have registered for support from the charity, an increase of 11,000 from last year, according to executive director Mahmood Zafar. He predicts that number will rise again in 2024 to 60,000, creating even thinner margins than the food bank is already grappling with.
“Up until February, we were getting good donations. After that, donations started to go down and we were getting more and more clients,” he told Global News.
“Now we are seeing new people coming to us who have never been to a food bank before.”
The food bank needs another $500,000 in order to meet its minimum annual allocation of $67 per client. Right now, Zafar said he’s operating on a monthly deficit of $50,000, relying on built-up stock on the shelves to meet demand.
The Surrey Food Bank is now examining new ways to attract donations — including approaching restaurants on a one-on-one basis, he added.
“Ideally, I would like to have a reserve that would last for 24 months and beyond, but right now my reserves are 12 months.”
Food inflation at grocery stores has remained elevated in Canada at 8.5 per cent in the latest consumer price index reading, even as price pressures elsewhere in the economy show signs of easing.
Canada’s top grocery executives, however, have pledged to “support” the federal government’s efforts to keep prices in check, according to Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne.
Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, said the increased food prices have made procurement difficult for food banks across the country.
“When prices go up, companies, consumers are more careful with food so there’s not as much food to be rescued in the first place, or there’s not as much food rerouted to food banks,” he explained.
Soaring rent and mortgage costs, however, may sting even more, he added. People are able to make more sacrifices at the grocery store than they are with the roof over their heads, he said.
“Right now, the average person is basically spending the same amount of money as last year despite food inflation, so you’re basically getting less in quality, you’re getting less probably in nutrition as well.”
Vijay Naidu, communications manager for the Surrey Food Bank, said the non-profit is fielding between 20 and 30 appointments daily and is fully booked until mid-October. While families wait to be seen, the food bank gives them an emergency hamper, he added.
“When I joined, we used to do maybe 150 households every day but now it’s 250-plus households every day,” he said.
“I think if the donations keep going down, I think we might not be able to supply. We might have to reach out to the government organization to do more on this.”
— with files from Craig Lord