Saint John food banks expect storm-related spike in demand

Most food banks in Saint John resume regular pick up on Tuesday and expect to have more mouths to feed this month.

Ice storm aftermath leaves area food banks fearing lean times ahead

Most food banks in Saint John resume regular pick up on Tuesday and expect to have more mouths to feed this month.

Lois Merritt, a city outreach worker, says she is already seeing the effects of last month's ice storm on her clients.

"This is the time of season when a lot of people fall behind on their bills," said Merritt, who works with Fresh Start Services, an agency that helps vulnerable people from southern New Brunswick.

"Cold days of course increase the electric heat need, or wood need, oil need, so a lot of people fall behind and fall into the crisis of losing their energy towards disconnection and are uninformed about what services are there in the community to help."

Merritt is in the process of finding a shelter for a woman and two children who were forced out of their home by a flood, which was caused by bursting pipes.

She expects to receive more requests for help as clients receive their power bills next month.

"Especially with Christmas," said Merritt. "A lot of people do suffer through Christmas, those who live low-income, those [who live] paycheque to paycheque, they do tend to fall behind."

Storm relief blows budgets

Community agencies are also bracing for lean times now that the holiday giving season is over.

Much of the Salvation Army's emergency budget has been directed toward storm relief, while food banks in rural communities were also challenged during the weather-related power outages.

"I had no phone. They had no way to contact me," said Sandra Speight, who runs the River Road food bank in Browns Flat.

Speight said she had no way of gauging her community's need because there was no plan in place for a storm of that magnitude.

Now, she predicts there will be long-term consequences.

"It was very costly and that's fine if you have the resources to buy the extra gas for your generators, if you're lucky enough to have one," she said.

About 82,000 homes and businesses had been without electricity at some point during the late December ice storm, NB Power officials have said.

Some customers were without power for more than a week. In some cases, customers lost power six times.