Cape Breton food banks face increased demand this spring

Food banks in Cape Breton are seeing more people coming in for help than usual this spring, a time of year when usage normally drops.

Cold winter and spring force people to choose between heat and food

Nicole MacLean, who is in charge of the Salvation Army food bank in Sydney, says they've seen an increase in the number of people needing help this spring. (David Burke/CBC)

Food banks in Cape Breton are seeing more people coming in for help than usual this spring, a time of year when usage normally drops.

The continuing cold weather is forcing some to choose between heating their homes and buying food.

"I didn't notice a significant difference until March came and it seemed to be one of our busiest months for the year," said Nicole MacLean, a community ministries coordinator for the Salvation Army who runs the food bank in Sydney. 

"September is usually our busiest with kids going back to school and the expense of that, but March has even surpassed that month. April, so far, we've had 14 new clients." 

MacLean estimates the food bank served about 140 people in March and said people had to make some hard choices this year. 

"Do I keep my kids warm or do I feed them? And knowing that if they put the money into the heat then I have to come for food. It's demeaning for them, it's difficult. You see it in their face, it's heart breaking for some of them." 

It's a similar story at the Glace Bay food bank. Coordinator Patricia Hurley says she's seeing a five to 10 per cent increase in the number of people using the food bank this spring, compared to last year. 

People aren't just asking for food, either. Hurley said some are desperate for basics like toilet paper. 

"People come in and they say they don't have none at all, they were using napkins," Hurley said. "It's sad that they'd have to use napkins; in this day and age toilet paper is expensive." 

"Deodorants, tooth paste, tooth brushes, razors, men are always coming in looking for razors and shaving creams and shampoos."  

Ryan MacMillan uses the food bank in Glace Bay and also spends time at Harvest House, a soup kitchen in the community. He chose to heat his apartment this month rather than buy food. 

"If I didn't have Harvest House or the food bank down the road I don't know what I would have done," he said.

"You got to survive right? You got to pay your rent and you've got to pay your heat in the wintertime if you don't you know you're in a bad situation." 

Daniel Slaunwhite also uses the Glace Bay food bank. He said it was hard to ask for food. 

"It's just as hard as anyone asking for help, you don't really want to, but these guys make you feel welcome, these guys open arms." 

Paul Coady is another food bank user and hopes he'll have more money for food once the weather warms up. 

"Power bill will go down, the heat bill will go down, you know it helps out," he said. 

Both food banks hope that as the weather warms up, fewer people will need them.   

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