2015 is ending on a downbeat note for Feed Nova Scotia, and with food prices expected to spike in the new year, 2016 could be a challenge for the charity and food bank users.
The organization, which supports 146 food banks, soup kitchens and other meal programs, is still tallying its final numbers for the 2015, but so far food donations appear to be down in November and December, says Karen Theriault, director of development and communications at Feed Nova Scotia.
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"It's discouraging sometimes... but generosity leads to generosity," she said, sounding an optimistic note even though food donations appear to be down by 10 per cent during this Christmas season.
Theriault says she's hoping that once all the final donations are entered into Feed Nova Scotia's computer systems, that the charity will see better numbers.
But both the organization and the 44,000 Nova Scotians who turned to food banks this year could feel the pinch of higher food prices, which are forecasted to climb up to four per cent in 2016, according to the University of Guelph Food Institute.
'It's going to be a challenge'
"If they do come true, then that's going to be a challenge for both individuals, and the support systems that are in place in the community that are trying to support those individuals," said Theriault.
Nathan England is a Nova Scotian who went to a food bank in order to put meals on the table this year.
"Things were a little tight this month and I didn't have quite enough money to get me through for food for the month," he said at a local food bank on the second last day of 2015.
England's made strides in his life by purchasing a mini-home in Beaverbank this summer, a big milestone since he was on welfare five years ago.
He works seven nights a week on long shifts, cleaning floors. But with food prices expected to cost on average $345 more in 2016, he reflected on what that could mean for him.
"I'm doing better than I have in previous years, but with what we're talking about here with prices going up, and such, it's going to get harder," he said.
"Maybe I'll be coming to the food bank more often this upcoming year. A lot of people do work their fingers to the bone and have nothing to show for it... I'm borderline."
People on income assistance most vulnerable
People on income assistance will be most affected by food price shock. Feed Nova Scotia says they make up more than half — 56 per cent — of food bank users.
The province has been reviewing its social assistance rates, a community services spokesperson said, adding more information on the issue will be coming early in the new year.
Theriault said food banks can spend up to $7,000 a month buying groceries to assist their clients.
"We rely on the community as always and the community has never turned its back on helping its neighbours in need, so hopefully that support will continue."