'It's a hard time for everyone': Surging fuel prices hitting food banks, truckers, cabbies
'It's not necessarily sustainable for our society': Manitoba Trucking Association
Soaring inflation and surging fuel prices are hurting a lot of Manitobans — even the ones whose mission is to help.
"It's a difficult situation for a lot of families and I think there are going to be more people coming to us. That is my expectation over the months to come," said Vince Barletta, president and CEO of Harvest Manitoba, the province's largest food bank.
"I'm just so glad we can be there for them."
In January, Harvest Manitoba sent food hampers to 12,000 households, representing 34,000 individuals — half of whom are children — around the province.
It was the fifth consecutive month the organization has seen more than 11,000 households served, and that doesn't include the food supplied to soup kitchens and daycare programs, Barletta said, citing inflation creep happening since last fall.
Combining that with rising prices at the gas pumps, along with the uncertainty being caused by Russia's invasion in Ukraine — which Barletta says has caused grain prices to jump — many families are faltering.
"We're seeing clients for the first time who say they are having a hard time making ends meet," Barletta said. "This is all taking a big bite out of people's budgets. This has been very stressful for a lot of families."
Harvest itself is also being impacted in a big way by the costs. It runs a fleet of gas and diesel trucks to get food around the province, including throughout northern and rural communities and First Nations.
"The hurts our bottom line, too," Barletta said.
Fuel prices in Manitoba hit a record this week, reaching $1.64 per litre. That's 22 cents higher than the last highest recorded average of fuel prices of $1.42 in 2008.
As the situation in Ukraine continues to unfold, it's possible prices could increase another 10 to 25 cents a litre over the next month or two, said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy.
'We all feel it'
Even if someone doesn't have a car, the rising price of gas is still being felt, Barletta noted.
"When that goes up, that cost gets baked into the costs of pretty much everything we do. It gets baked into the cost of food, supplies, clothing and housing. We all feel it in some way."
The way people cope is by "having to make terrible choices," Barletta said. Rent must still be paid, as well as heat and electricity and other bills.
In the end, any discretion to cut is made to the food budget.
"And that's why we've been here for 37 years," Barletta said. "But we're only able to do what we do because of Manitobans supporting us."
To that end, he issued a plea for anyone who can donate food, funds or volunteer time, to please do so.
"If anyone has the means and can dig deep, Harvest can certainly use the help," Barletta said, noting the increased demand for help has forced Harvest Manitoba to buy food to supplement donations.
Aaron Dolyniuk, executive director for the Manitoba Trucking Association, says an average highway truck holds about 1,000 litres of fuel.
It now costs another $200 to fill, compared to the start of January.
Labour and fuel have flip-flopped over the years as the two largest operational costs for any trucking organization, but now fuel has well surpassed labour.
"I think people are concerned. It's not necessarily sustainable for our society," Dolyniuk said about the double gut-punch of fuel and inflation.
Manmohan Gill, manager of Unicity Taxi in Winnipeg, said drivers are being paid the same amount as they were four years ago but the cost of living has risen drastically in that time.
"Filling up small cars for $100? It's not good for them," he said, noting there are almost 300 cars in the company's fleet and more than 500 drivers.
"It's a hard time for everyone," he said. "We won't stop providing service to the city ... but the prices should be lower. Cars are a necessity for everyone."
With files from Erin Brohman
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