Nfld. & Labrador

Hampered: Here's why demand is far ahead of supply at N.L. food banks

At the Bridges to Hope food bank near downtown St. John's, there's one familiar sound: a phone that will not stop ringing. "Just last Friday we had like nine or 10 people who have never been to a food bank before," says manager Jody Williams. 

Phones ringing off the hook at food banks across the province

Jody Williams, who manages the busiest food bank in St. John's, says demand is going up as the holiday season nears. The food bank is also seeing more new faces, which he says is a concern. (Marie Isabelle Rochon/Radio-Canada)

Food bank operators in Newfoundland and Labrador say they're already coping with an increased demand going into the holiday season, including from families and young people unable to keep up with the rising cost of food.

At Bridges to Hope in St. John's, manager Jody Williams says the phone hasn't stopped ringing. He said the food bank will register about 350 people for food hampers this fall, and expects the number to rise in the coming weeks.

"Just last Friday, we had, like, nine or 10 people who have never been to a food bank before, new clients to the food bank. And I'm pretty sure in the five years I've been here, that's the most I've ever seen in one day," Williams told CBC Radio's CrossTalk on Monday.

"We're heading into Christmas, this for us is our biggest demand time of year.… I have never seen the phone so busy. It's just ringing off the hook, asking, 'When is registration coming?'"

Food donations have dropped close to 80 per cent since the pandemic began, according to Williams. (CBC)

Michelle Daye, who works with the Grand Falls-Windsor and Bishop's Falls Community Food Bank, said central and western Newfoundland operators are reporting similar scenes.

"That's a bit alarming," Daye told Newfoundland Morning. 

"I anticipate that we will probably be way above the need this year than we were last year.… The reasons are varied, but the increase in the need is definitely there and happening."

Prices going up, donations going down

But as usage is going up, Williams says, food donations are going down.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Williams said, donations of food have plunged 80 per cent. He attributes part of the drop to more people working at home, resulting in fewer food drives at schools and businesses.

The drop in donations has forced Bridges to Hope to buy the majority of food at its bank. Rising food prices mean the buying power is limited. 

"It's already been challenging as it is, so it creates a bit of fear," he said.

"We experience the same obstacles as our clients. As an organization we also are, like, wondering where the food's coming from next, where's our next bit of money coming from to get food," he said. 

"So it's easy to relate to our clients, let's say."

According to Food First N.L., food prices have gone up around five per cent in 2021.

Rising food costs are likely a factor in how other food banks are operating this holiday, with the Salvation Army in Corner Brook continuing its tradition of offering gift cards instead of food hampers so users can pick the items they want at a grocery store.

The group served 760 cards last year — up 60 from the year before — and expects the number to grow in 2021.

The program is funded by the Salvation Army Christmas Kettle campaign, which launched Wednesday. This year's campaign includes a tap option for debit and credit cards.

The Salvation Army on Thursday launched its annual Christmas kettle campaign, which now includes a tap function for debit and credit cards. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

"Families are still struggling … and I can't stress that enough," said Jane Ash of the Salvation Army Community and Family Services,

Williams said it's important for people donating food to keep essentials in mind and keep an eye on best-before dates.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Kennedy

Journalist

Alex Kennedy works for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador in St. John's.

With files from CrossTalk and CBC Newfoundland Morning

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