Gluten-free items needed at local food banks

Only a few gluten-free donations come in to local food banks, even though the demand for the products is growing, according to food bank operators and experts.
Mike Turnbull works at the Unemployed Help Centre and says the organization tries its best to help people suffering from celiac disease. (Peter Duck/CBC)

Only a few gluten-free donations come in to local food banks, even though the demand for the products is growing, according to food bank operators and experts.

Mark Johnson of the Canadian Celiac Association says the higher cost of gluten-free items frightens off many donors.

"People see that the price tag is a lot higher on a gluten-free item, so they think, 'Well, I'll just buy more of something that's cheaper and donate that,'" he said. "But it's important to remember that there are many low-income families that are struggling with celiac disease, and it's a bit of a double whammy in that the diet is more expensive and the food can be harder to get."

As many as 300,000 Canadians could have this disease. However, many remain undiagnosed, Health Canada says.

Johnson says another issue for food banks is that many gluten-free items are sold frozen.

Many food banks do not accept donations of perishable goods from individuals, and they also have limited freezer space.

Mike Turnbull works at the Unemployed Help Centre and says the organization tries its best to help people suffering from celiac disease.

"They're already coming to the food bank and making tough choices; single moms or people that are underemployed or the working poor that are struggling to make those decisions, whether to keep the heat on or buy groceries," he said. "Groceries are so expensive and gluten-free products are very, very expensive. If we can look at getting more and more gluten-free donations, that would be certainly helpful for those folks."

The Unemployed Help Centre has a separate but small selection of gluten-free products on its shelves.

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