Food banks in areas affected by wildfires still seeing increased demand

The Ashcroft and Area Food Bank says that even though the wildfires are long over, there are still families living out of hotels and in need.

The Ashcroft and 100 Mile House Food Banks are still serving families impacted by the wildfires

Food banks in communities affected by the 2017 wildfire season in B.C. are seeing a higher demand than before. (CBC)

During the height of the wildfire season, food banks across the province saw a considerable increase in demand, but some smaller communities are still feeling the residual effects from the devastating fires.

Yoriko Susanj, executive director of the South Cariboo Elizabeth Fry Society, which runs the Ashcroft and Area Food Bank, says they normally hand out 55 to 65 food bags to families and individuals twice per month. But since the fires, that number has increased to 80.

"There are still people who are not back home because of the wildfires … they are still living in hotels, so the need is still there for the victims of the wildfires," said Susanj.

Bob Hicks, executive director of 100 Mile House Food Bank Society, says he has also seen an increase in demand.

"They were evacuated for two to three weeks, some of them, and when they come back it takes them quite awhile to get a paycheque going again because the first thing they have to start paying is their rent," Hicks said.

Hicks says that during the wildfires the small food bank, which normally hands out anywhere from three to 3,500 hampers a year, handed out 2,400 hampers from mid July to late August. Those hampers went to people in Williams Lake, Clinton, Cache Creek and as far away as Anaheim Lake — and Hicks says he is still seeing people from those communities.

"We're there to help anybody that needs the help, not just low income people, or people on welfare or homeless people. We're there to help everybody," he explained.

More than food

Susanj says that the demand for things such as baby supplies, diapers and food has lessened in Ashcroft since the fires, but the need for mental health support has increased.

"Now we're seeing the ripple effect of the fire so our office is now supporting the emotional and mental needs of the people that were affected by the fires."

Since the food bank runs out of an Elizabeth Fry Society —  a non-profit aimed at offering support services to vulnerable women and children — they have a staff of trained support workers who have been assisting those who still have not returned to their homes.

Almost half of the homes on the Ashcroft Indian Band Reserve were destroyed, and the Boston Flats Trailer Park lost about 30 homes.

"People are stressed that they're not going to be home in a house for Christmas. They are frustrated with the process of whatever paperwork they have to do to get back to a house instead of living in a hotel room."