British Columbia

Food bank use doubles in Fort St. John

The United Way says food bank use has doubled in Fort St. John, as employment insurance ends for jobless in B.C.'s gas fields.

'We've had such massive layoffs,' says United Way Northern British Columbia

Hundreds of pairs of shoes were lined up on a downtown street corner to represent the hundreds of food bank users every week in Fort St John. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC)

The number of people relying on food banks in Fort S.t John has doubled over the last year, according to the United Way in northern B.C.

"In the north here, we've had such mass layoffs," said Niki Hedges, Community Development and Campaign Officer with the United Way Northern British Columbia, based in Fort St. John.

"The economic downturn has impacted so many peoples' lives. Thousands of people lost their jobs overnight," said Hedges.

Once the busy centre of B.C.'s booming gas fields, Fort St. John hit hard times as energy prices tanked. Now, many of the jobless are running out of E.I. benefits

'You reach a ... breaking point'

"Many people have been hanging in for over a year," said Hedges. "You reach a certain breaking point where you're faced with the question, 'Do I put food on the table or do I pay my bills? Because if I don't pay my bills, I'm homeless.'"

In June, 3,446 people turned to food banks at the Salvation Army, the Women's Resource Society's Poverty Outreach Program and the Friendship Society in Fort St. John, a city of 21,000. 

Concerned by the growing hunger problem, these agencies decided to convey what was happening with a symbolic installation.

Social service agencies in Fort St John set up this visual display of shoes on a downtown street corner to represent the growing number of people in the community who rely on food banks. (Phallon Stoutenburg)

Last week, on a downtown street corner, they set up hundreds of pairs shoes in neat rows, including work boots, baby booties, and high heels. 

Each pair represented one person who relied on the food bank each week.

Hedges of the United Way says she was "staggered" by the sight of so many shoes and says the demand for food assistance has doubled in just a year.

Many first time food bank users

"The scale of the issue is so extreme. Our families are going hungry," said Hedges.

The Women's Resource Centre is serving more hungry people, who once had high paying jobs in the gas patch, said outreach coordinator Phallon Stoutenburg.

"You have people that come in and say, 'I've never had to do this before. This is my first time' [at a food bank]," said Stoutenburg.

About the Author

Betsy Trumpener

Reporter-Editor, CBC News

Betsy Trumpener is an award-winning journalist and author. She's been covering the news in central and northern British Columbia for more than 15 years.


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