A food bank specializing in helping Halifax-area residents with life-threatening illnesses says demand is rising this year.

The Manna for Health Food Bank provides healthy, fresh food to people whose lives depend to a large extent on good nutrition because of compromised immune systems. Most of its clients are HIV-positive and Manna for Health is the only food bank in Nova Scotia that has tailored its work to suit their needs.

Helen Langille, who runs the food bank, said they help several hundred people each month, including a core group who rely on them weekly.

Manna for Health buys much of its food to ensure its clients get fresh produce and meat. The money comes from donations and some food donations come from Feed Nova Scotia.

Most clients come in person, but the food bank brings food to those who are too ill to travel.

“Some of our clients can't eat meat because they have no teeth, so peanut butter is their protein. We try to hold on to the staples,” she explained.

While food bank usage is declining nationally, Manna has seen a rise this year. Langille said they already have as many people as they can handle.

'Some of our clients can't eat meat because they have no teeth, so peanut butter is their protein.' - Helen Langille

“Now we have people living with [HIV] and people live longer with it. We are a referral agency only and if we broadcast where the referrals come from, we would be overloaded and we couldn't handle that,” she said.

She said the national decline is not reflected at her food bank.

“I don't know how they say it is going down, because I haven't seen it in this food bank or heard it in any other food banks. Ours has gone up maybe 20 per cent since six to seven months ago,” she said.

Cost of HIV drugs drive people to food bank

David Ley travels an hour to get to Manna for Health. He has lived with HIV for two decades. The cost of treatment drugs and the difficulty of finding work drive many to the food bank, he said.

“Food has gotten so expensive. It's very important that we have this food bank and actually we need to grow this food bank,” he said.

He filled a suitcase with cans and frozen meat before starting the hour-long bus trip home.

“This has actually been one of the better days the past two or three months. The food bank has been really low,” he said.