The Salvation Army has sounded the alarm on a dire shortage at its Hamilton food bank.

Shelves that usually contain boxes of food piled high are bare, said Lisa Burrows, manager at the Bay Street warehouse and food bank.

 "I've been here seven years and this is the worst I've seen it."

Supplies are so low that the charity has purchased just over $50,000 worth of food. But even that isn't enough, spokesperson Gary Brown said.

The Salvation Army is entering its slowest period for food bank donations. The fact that it is already short is a concern, he said.

"We want to come into the summer with a good supply, and already, our shelves are getting pretty bare."

The Salvation Army food bank serves about 100 households per day. In May, 3,991 people relied on the food bank, 1,088 of which were children.

The shortage is echoed at food banks around Hamilton. At the Neighbour to Neighbour Centre on Athens Street, there's a particular shortage of protein (canned beans, legumes and fish), canned fruits and vegetables, peanut butter and juice.

The shortage is coupled with an overall increase in demand, said Denise Arkell, Neighbour to Neighbour executive director.

Every month so far this year has seen increases of 10 to 25 per cent over the previous year's demand, she said.

As for why, "that's the million-dollar question," she said. "We're seeing a lot more working poor walking through the door.

"I'm not sure how many layoffs have happened and how that's trickled down. Now that would be a story."

Good Shepherd Family Services is also seeing a decline in donations, spokesperson Alan Whittle said.

"At this time of the year, we always struggle."

Good Shepherd is particularly low on protein items such as canned tuna, peanut butter and pasta sauces.

Unlike spring or fall, people aren't usually thinking of donating to food banks in the summer, Burrows said.

"They're thinking 'I need a vacation.'"

The Salvation Army needs dry pasta and canned meats, such as tuna, ham and turkey.

"This is a critical situation," Brown said.