British Columbia

Demand swells for Greater Vancouver Food Bank as charity struggles to keep shelves stocked

Membership increased by 22 per cent, while food donations have declined steadily over the past five years.

While membership increased by 22%, food donations have declined steadily over the past 5 years

Rows of empty shelves at the Greater Vancouver Food Bank warehouses have prompted calls for donations. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

The Greater Vancouver Food Bank is having a difficult time keeping its shelves stocked, following an unusually busy summer, prompting calls for donations.

According to staff, there was a 22 per cent increase in demand this summer at food bank locations. The surge comes as the organization faces a steady decline in food donations over the last five years.

"That additional [22 per cent] really depleted the inventory of the Greater Vancouver Food Bank," said its CEO Aart Schuurman Hess.

High protein foods such as peanut butter are in particularly high demand after the summer, according to staff. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Hess says donations are typically low each summer, but the uptick in demand this summer came as a surprise, which has led to recent calls for donations.

The organization serves low-income families in Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster and on the North Shore. Residents can donate food or dollars, as well as participate in the upcoming City-Wide Food Drive.

Paper bags from the food bank have been sent to homes in several neighbourhoods across the Lower Mainland. Staff and volunteers from the society will pick them up from doorsteps this weekend.

Nearly 30,000 users

There are over 7,000 members that use the Great Vancouver Food Bank services across the region. Over 20,000 more are served through community services such as neighbourhood houses.

Chief development officer Cynthia Kinsella says food donations are at an all time low. In 2017, the organization had a record low year in terms of food distribution by weight.

"Over the last couple of months, we've started to see a real increase in demand," she said. "We don't know yet if that's a blip on the radar or if that's going to be sustained."

If the trend continues into 2019, Kinsella says it would put food bank demand at an all time high.

Donors can donate food and household items, as well as money that goes towards the GVFB budget to purchase food. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

High costs of living

While its unclear what has caused the unusual uptick in demand, staff say its another symptom of growing unaffordability in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.

"I think the cost of living, housing affordability, the cost of groceries — everything is going up," said Schuurman Hess. "I think a lot of people have reached that point where they need that extra help of the food bank."

Staff did note that monetary donations have been incrementally increasing over the years.

According to the Canada Revenue Agency, the society received over $12 million in receipted and non-receipted donations in 2017, as well as further funding from the government and donations from other charities.

Hess said $8 million goes toward administrative costs, wages, distribution, fundraising and educational programs each year.

The charity distributes over four million pounds of food each year.

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