Expected food price hike in 2017 will hurt northern Ontario communities
Sudbury soup kitchen manager says higher food costs next year will 'be a struggle'
Food banks and soup kitchens in northern Ontario will feel the crunch next year.
Canada's Food Price Report 2017 states the average Canadian family could be paying $240 more on their grocery bill.
That price hike is something many people living in the north just can't afford, says Lisa Sutherland, a volunteer with SWAP Misiway, a community-run donation service on Moose Factory Island, Ont.
"We feel it up here because of freight, gas, all the costs it takes to deliver to the stores up here," Sutherland says. "People don't have the luxury of taking southern trips to go buy at Independent or No Frills [grocery store chains]."
Sutherland helped start the donation service five years ago when she says the cost of living really started to rise in northern Ontario. Today, she says she sees food prices slowly increasing from year to year, based on what she buys for SWAP Misiway Christmas hampers.
"Last year, we bought 25 [frozen] turkeys. When I called our supplier this year, the turkeys are $20 to $30 more than they were," she says. "This year, I'm only going to get 12 for the price we bought last year."
Vouchers won't go far
Christina Linklater, the community health co-ordinator for the Moose Factory Health Centre, says she's seen the increase affect the community too.
Linklater recently helped set up a food voucher system that acts as a community emergency food bank fund.
She says she has a monthly budget of $2,000 to divvy up to all Moose Factory families who need it. But says the static budget means the voucher system doesn't always go very far.
"We're going to have more people wanting to access the vouchers, but we're going to have less to give," Linklater says.
She says typically a family who has to come to a food bank is facing hard times. "We're not just handing them a voucher, we're sitting and talking with them and hearing their stories," Linklater adds.
'We never turn anybody away'
Bill Hickey hears 150 to 200 of these stories every day. The manager of the Blue Door Soup Kitchen in Sudbury, Ont., says things are tight already due to recent budget cuts to the non-profit agency.
"We're living with less and feeding the same volume. It's going to be a struggle," Hickey says. "We never turn anybody away. It just means smaller portions, if that's all you have."
Hickey says if food prices increase significantly, the biggest change at Blue Door Soup Kitchen would be adjusting the menu for the hot meals they serve twice a week. He says instead of pasta with beef, the soup kitchen might have to switch to sandwiches and soup.
Though the climb in food prices doesn't seem to be leveling out any time soon, Sutherland says she thinks communities continue to rally behind those who are in dire need.
"It's not only felt here in the north — it's down south, too," Sutherland says. "The need is always going to be there."