Saint John food bank under pressure with 42% hike in demand

The North End Food Bank in Saint John may be shuttered by Christmas because organizers says they can't keep up with exploding demand, including from families who lost their work in Western Canada.

Increased demand at North End Food Bank could drive it to closure by Christmas

Hazel Clarke said demand at North End Food Bank is up 42 per cent over last year and that could drive it to close by Christmas. (Julia Wright/CBC)

The North End Food Bank in Saint John may be shuttered by Christmas because organizers says they can't keep up with exploding demand, including from families who lost their work in Western Canada.

"I look at my bank account and think this isn't going to do me to the end of the year, " said co-ordinator Hazel Clarke.

The food bank is reporting a 42 per cent spike in demand over last year.

"Some of it is our new citizens coming in, that's maybe five per cent," said Clarke.

"Some of it is unemployment. Some of it is people coming back from out west.

She said the food bank is also seeing a lot of employed people who just can't pay the bills and buy food.

Clarke did an inventory of food over the weekend and estimates the food bank has about six weeks work of food on hand.

The North End Food Bank is bracing for yet more demand as heating bills start to rise.

Last March, it served 1,128 families in that month.

Learning the ropes

Clarke took over the co-ordinator last March after the death of Victor Fitzgerald.

She was a volunteer at the food bank for more than five years before that and said the transition was sudden and there was little instruction on how to manage inventory.

Clarke said other food bank co-ordinators did offer support but she still had to learn the job as she went.

"It wasn't always easy to know where to go to buy something or how much I should buy or how much do we use on a monthly basis. All those things I had to figure out," said Clarke.

Client dilemmas

The job has also forced her to deal with some difficult dilemmas.

For example, clients were told in July they could no longer come more than once per month, even though Clarke said there's clearly more need.

She said one man continued to come every week because he can't take his medicine on an empty stomach.

For Clarke, she said there is no such thing as false stories when it comes to people in need.

"I've had people come to me and say people are abusing the food bank. They don't really need it. They're doing this and that. I don't listen to that," Clarke said.

"I try to treat each person who comes in the door with dignity and respect and trust that they're doing their best to make the lives of themselves and their family better."

Clarke said the arrival of Syrian refugees in Saint John is not a factor in the problems being faced by the food bank.

She said she has 42 registered Syrian families and she sees two of them per month.