Nfld. & Labrador

'Sadness, depression, isolation' at food banks as usage climbs

The Carbonear food bank says it helps between 600 and 800 households a month and that is expected to go up as Christmas approaches. Chairperson Kerri Abbott says most of the clientele are seniors and the working poor.  
Kerri Abbott stands next to boxes of cartons of eggs — 600 dozen in all. She says the eggs will be given out within a week. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

Kerri Abbott stands in a food pantry pointing to 600 dozen eggs in boxes. 

"They'll all go this week," says Abbott, the chairperson of Society of St. Vince de Paul, which runs the Carbonear food bank. 

The food in the pantry Abbott is standing in used to last six months. 

Now, it lasts only two to three weeks. 

Demand is so high the food bank doesn't prepare Thanksgiving hampers anymore because it can't afford them with Christmas just around the corner; last year the food bank gave out 1,500 Christmas hampers. 

Coming into the pandemic, almost 15 per cent of homes in Newfoundland and Labrador were food-insecure — meaning they struggled to afford food. Experts worry that percentage could nearly double. 

Numbers climbing 

In the region around Carbonear, numbers are climbing now that summer is over and people have to pay for heating their homes. 

"We're averaging about 600 to 800 households a month now. As it gets close to Christmas that will go up," says Abbott. 

Abbott says the clientele at her food bank tend to be senior citizens and people who are commonly referred to as the "working poor" — people who are working, renting their homes, and trying to raise their kids. 

On top of food insecurity, there's also pandemic-forced isolation. 

Monthly community meals were stopped; now volunteers call to check in on how people are doing.

"We're hearing just sadness. Sadness, depression, isolation," says Abbott. 

Single mother Kimberley Snow says she goes to a food bank once a month and when working often skips meals to make sure her children have enough to eat. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

In the nearby community of Bay Roberts, Kimberley Snow is a single mother of three who regularly uses food banks. 

She's also one of the 1,400 Dominion workers walking the picket line in a strike that's demanding better pay and full-time jobs. 

Snow wants to work full-time hours but for the past three years has only been able to get part-time work, a little more than 20 hours a week. She relies on social services to keep her children fed and sheltered. 

"Without social services there to step up to the plate I would have no rent, I would have no place to live, I would have no power, I wouldn't have any necessities my children need," she says. 

Fresh produce sits on the shelf at the Carbonear food bank. The food bank helps 600 to 800 households a month, and that is expected to increase come the Christmas season. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

Snow describes an incident during the past year when she was left with a choice: pay the electricity bill or buy groceries. Her power bill was more than expected and she was at the point where if she didn't pay it, it would be cut off. 

She went to work and asked her manager if the company could give her a gift card.

"He said no, there was no way the company could help me," she says. 

At the time, the store was getting its cashiers to ask people to donate to a charity to feed children. 

"Here I was like a fool behind the cash trying to collect so that little children wouldn't go to school hungry. And here I am, [thinking] 'What about my kids? My kids are going to go hungry if I pay my power bill,'" says Snow, as she starts to weep. 

According to data compiled by Proof Canada — a research team that investigates and publishes annual reports on food insecurity using data from Statistics Canada — single parents are the most likely to face food insecurity in the province.

Snow says if Dominion were open right now she would be working while hungry. 

"I would probably get up in the morning, my kids would have their breakfast. I'd probably sit down to eat their leftover toast. So I would have a little bit of a bite in my belly before I went to work my shift," she says. 

For the time being, Snow says, she eats meals provided by her union at the picket line. 

Snow says there are other single moms on the pickets lines — including one she knows who is at risk of losing her home.

"She was telling me that she's finding it hard. She started crying. She don't know when she's going to have to send her child to live with her parents so she can live in her car," she says. "That's so unfair. That's so unfair."

Josh Smee is the CEO of Food First NL. (Alex Kennedy/CBC)

It's not just the region around Carbonear that's seeing an increase in food bank demand now that autumn is here. 

Food First NL CEO Josh Smee says the province's food help line has seen an uptick in demand since September.

Fewer supports 

He attributes part of that to changes in pandemic support for people. Smee says they're not at the wraparound level they were back when the pandemic first hit. 

"We have to realize food banks and meal programs, the best that any of us can do who are working in that place is fill some gaps and put a Band-Aid on things," he said. 

At the end of the day, Smee says, it comes down to income and that people's lives are depending on a better social safety net. 

Fed Up is a series by CBC NL, in collaboration with Food First NL, exploring the issues surrounding food insecurity and why many people in the province are struggling to access food.

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