New Brunswick

'Disturbing' trend: Number of children using food banks is on the rise

Mark LeBlanc and his staff and volunteers at the Vestiaire St-Joseph food bank in Shediac are shocked at the spike in the number of people, especially children, they are serving.

Mark LeBlanc of Vestiaire St-Joseph food bank in Shediac says families are struggling more than ever

Community members are concerned after the number of people using the Vestiare St-Joseph food bank jumped from 600 to 700 in December, and more than 200 of them were children. (Food Banks Canada)

Mark LeBlanc and his staff and volunteers at the Vestiaire St-Joseph food bank in Shediac typically serve 600 people from their region each month, but in December that number rose to over 700.

As executive director of the non-profit, which also offers a teaching kitchen and family resource centre, LeBlanc said the trend is "disturbing," especially when you look more closely at the people who are in need.

"When you start looking at the numbers and breaking it down — children become a shocking number."

Of the 707 people the food bank served in December, 233 or 33 per cent, were under the age of 18.

Mark LeBlanc, executive director of the Vestiaire St-Joseph food bank in Shediac, is shocked by the increase in the number of children his food bank is serving. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

LeBlanc said many families are "just keeping their heads above water" and are in desperate need of affordable childcare and affordable housing.

"If it comes between rent and food, they choose rent and then we cover the rest."

Children struggling

Kristal LeBlanc, executive director of the Beausejour Family Crisis Centre in Shediac, refers many of her clients to the Vestiaire St-Joseph food bank.

For her, the saddest thing about food insecurity is that children are powerless to change their situation.

"You have to look at 'how does this impact their mental health and what does that mean for them?'," Kristal said.

Kristal LeBlanc, executive director of the Beausejour Family Crisis Resource Centre in Shediac, says many women and children fleeing domestic violence experience poverty and food insecurity, which she calls 'a gendered issue.' (Radio-Canada)

"What about the anxiety and the embarrassment when it's lunch time at school and they don't have anything to eat?"

Kristal has seen many children, who often don't know when their next meal is coming, with "hoarding behaviours" like hiding food under their beds.

Both Mark and Kristal worry that community donations for their organizations will run out, and are encouraging people to support local businesses.

"Amazon is not paying for children's hockey jerseys," said Kristal. "If you're not supporting your local businesses, they're not going to be around anymore to support those charities that do a lot of the important work in the community."

Food insecurity a 'gendered issue'

Mark said it is "amazing" the number of local businesses that quietly support Vestiaire St-Joseph's many programs.

"The community can be there for us and we can be there for them," Mark said of the support offered to families.

Two children sit at a table eaiting food.
Mark LeBlanc and Kristal LeBlanc say the demand for services at their respective non-profits are continually on the rise and worry that community donations won't be able to keep up. (Adam Carter/CBC)

While Kristal agrees more support is needed for all non-profits in the short-term, she also wants people to look more deeply into what the food bank statistics mean.

For her the spike in the number of children using the food bank is further proof that food insecurity "is a gendered issue."

"It's not just about giving to the food banks. It is important, but it's about 'how are we actually moving that needle and pulling people out of poverty?'."

Mark plans to raise his concerns at a Food Banks Canada Network Council meeting he will attend this month in Toronto.

"I can't help but be startled by the number of children using our food bank alone. This is an issue that should be highlighted in the coming year."

with files from Information Morning Moncton