New Brunswick food banks stretching budgets as demand soars
High fuel prices pushing supplier to buy local, lock in deals
New Brunswickers are lining up at food banks and soup kitchens for help in growing numbers, as inflation drives up prices for everything from rent to groceries.
The province's food banks are seeing a roughly 20 per cent increase in the number of clients over the past few months, or about 3,000 to 5,000 new people. They now serve about 25,000 households monthly.
Food Depot Alimentaire, which provides supplies for all of the food banks, as well as shelters and school lunch programs, is searching for ways to stretch its budget.
Executive Director Stephane Sirois said the growing cost of living and end of government benefits during the pandemic is making it harder for some to make ends meet.
"Everything is getting expensive, everyone sees it when they go to the grocery store, when they fill up their tank with gas, rents are up," he said. "It's the old saying, 'You either pay your rent or buy food.'"
Canada's inflation rate rose to 5.7 per cent last month, the highest rate in 30 years.
Prices at grocery stores increased by 7.4 per cent in the past year. Add on rapidly rising rents, and the total cost of living is climbing significantly higher.
As a result of skyrocketing prices at the gas pumps, Food Depot Alimentaire has hiked its fuel budget to $100,000 – up 30%. To make matters worse, the non-profit has been grappling with a rash of fuel thefts from its delivery trucks.
Many food products, ranging from seafood to meats, are getting harder to source – and more expensive – with supply chain issues.
WATCH / New Brunswick food banks see increased demand
Steve MacIntyre, director of warehouse operations, said there's substantial pressure to stretch every dollar. He oversees logistics for the Moncton non-profit, finding more efficient routes to cut back on transportation costs.
"We're creative with as many things as we possibly can, right to we try to get the forecast of what the fuel prices are doing on Wednesdays, so it tells us whether we need to fill our trucks up or not fill our trucks up until Thursday morning," he said.
The warehouse is also making deals with producers to lock in prices before expected jumps. It delivers over 5 million pounds of food annually, valued between $11 million and $13 million.
Food Depot Alimentaire is also buying local to save on transportation costs. It signed agreements with five local farms in Greater Moncton and is working on similar deals with producers on the Acadian Peninsula.
Sirois said purchasing from larger manufacturers once offered better pricing, but that's beginning to change.
"The less kilometres your food has to travel is becoming more efficient than getting it shipped from Mexico, or other provinces, or California," he said.
The challenge with local produce is the short harvest season, so they're searching for a processor to help extend the shelf life of goods.
Food Depot Alimentaire recently received a $1-million donation from the province to help offset growing costs.
Sirois said planning for the future is challenging. It's hard to predict if donations will remain at the same level as seen at the height of the pandemic.
"We don't really know where inflation will peak, where gas prices will peak, where world events will go," he said.
"It creates a lot of uncertainty."