Nfld. & Labrador

Some food banks struggle amid fluctuating demand, supply and donations

The pandemic has been a tumultuous and uncertain time for many; for those who need to avail of food bank services, even more. And for some of the food banks, it's been hard to keep up with demand.

Community Food Sharing Association says demand has been steady throughout pandemic

Demand is on the rise again as donations dry up at a major St. John's food bank. (CBC)

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a tumultuous and uncertain time for many; for those who need to avail of food bank services, even more.

And for some of the food banks, it's been hard to keep up with demand.

Jody Williams, the manager of St. John's food bank Bridges to Hope, says some of the demand for services went down during the pandemic, but it's back up to normal now.

"It's almost like as soon as September came, our numbers went right back to where we kind of were. So before the pandemic we were seeing about a thousand people a month, and then it went down to very little numbers, and now we're pretty much back to where we were," Williams says.

"And we kind of have some new demographics, basically — working people. Like just yesterday we had a couple in who work at Dominion and they're on strike and they can't make ends meet on their strike pay and they have a kid."

We'd like for people in their own communities to support their own community.- Eg Walters

The rise in need comes as the Canada emergency response benefit expires, Williams pointed out. That's led to changing demographics.

"We're getting a lot of people coming here for the first time, never used the food bank before, they're underemployed, they thought they were gonna get the call back to work, and also now the CERB is running out," he said.

In addition to increased demand, Williams said, there's a shortage of actual food coming in through donations.

"A lot of people are working from home right now and a lot of our donations in the past came from corporations, basically, and right now a lot of them corporations aren't doing things like that, so we went from having probably six food drives a month to zero," he said.

"It just adds a whole other level of stress.… My food budget basically went up probably 500 per cent from previous years, so I have to go out and find that money to go and buy the food."

During the fall months and the lead-up to Christmas, it's typically a busy time for food banks, Williams said, as families feel the financial strain of school starting and the holidays looming.

Jody Williams, the manager of St. John's food bank Bridges to Hope, says 20 per cent of the people who use his food bank services are school-age children. (CBC)

"Certainly the demand goes up because if you're already tight for money, and you have Christmas coming around the corner and you have kids, you wanna definitely save some of that money to put towards Christmas," he said.

Locals supporting locals

This past weekend, Amy Gibbons, general manager of Mount Pearl Auto Pro, hosted a contactless food drive to support Bridges to Hope; Williams said the event was more successful than he could have hoped.

Local gestures like that are key to taking care of local food banks, says Eg Walters, general manager of the Community Food Sharing Association.

"We'd like for people in their own communities to support their own community," says Walters.

"If you've got a food bank in Bonavista, Gander, Grand Falls, Corner Brook, St. Anthony, wherever, have your local people donate to your local food bank there, because this COVID-19 is not gonna go away any time soon and people all throughout the province are gonna need help."

The association is located in St. John's, but distributes food to food banks across the province.

"We're getting tremendous support from the chicken farmers, the turkey farmers, the dairy farmers, Food Banks Canada, and the egg farmers. So we're getting a lot of product in bulk from these people, which is great," he said.

Williams says he's had to purchase the food to stock the shelves at Bridges to Hope, as food donations have largely dried up during the pandemic. (Heather Gillis/CBC)

"The mom and pop donations, and from the kids where they would drop by the office and bring in a couple of bags of groceries, that's virtually dried up completely. But like I say, the other major corporations and associations have certainly picked up the baton and are running quite well with it."

While the supply right now is in good shape heading into the fall season, and there's enough to get them past Thanksgiving, Walters said there's concern on the horizon.

Large annual food drives that would normally take place in the metro region — the City of St. John's, Metrobus, and the Downtown Santa Claus Parade drives, to name some — are now up in the air.

"We're hoping that these will either go ahead as they have in past years, or be put together in a different way — as long as it helps the less fortunate throughout the province of Newfoundland and Labrador," Walters said.

"I think I can speak for food banks all across the province in that monetary donations are certainly welcome, because it makes it a lot easier to get the bulk supplies and get it out to the food banks across the province."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Heather Gillis

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