Inflation-driven price hikes could strain Saskatoon meal program: official

A Saskatoon community worker says high inflation rates could have the biggest effect on those who can least afford it.

Interest rate hikes should slow inflation, but it's unclear how long that might take

Kim Treng, a member of the Friendship Inn kitchen staff in Saskatoon, prepares vegetables for the next day's soup. (Jason Warick/CBC)

Head cook Janet Reynolds cleans a grill Wednesday afternoon after serving perogies, sausage and stir-fried cabbage to roughly 700 guests at Saskatoon's Friendship Inn.

In the kitchen, a small army of volunteers is already preparing for the next meal — washing dishes, cracking dozens of eggs and chopping vegetables.

There was enough food for everyone, but executive director Sandra Kary worries that could change if inflation continues to soar.

"It's all intertwined," she said.

Volunteer Sherry Gore, left, and supervisor Ashley Mylrea crack hundreds of eggs for the next day's breakfast at Saskatoon's Friendship Inn. (Jason Warick/CBC)

According to figures released Wednesday by Statistics Canada, the country's inflation rate rose to 6.7 per cent in March, its biggest increase since 1991.

The price of gas, furniture and other goods is rising rapidly, but Kary is most concerned about food prices. The Friendhip Inn serves roughly 1,000 meals per day, she says, and continued price hikes could hurt their supplies as individuals and businesses cut back on donations.

Those higher prices could also send even more people through their doors needing a meal.

"Any time there's any effect in the economy,  we might see new faces come to us because they're struggling in a way they hadn't before," she said.

Keith Willoughby, dean of the University of Saskatchewan's Edwards School of Business, says it's unclear when the rising costs of groceries, gas and other goods will slow down. (supplied by Keith Willoughby)

Keith Willoughby, dean of the Edwards School of Business at the University of Saskatchewan, says the rising price of gas, food and even furniture isn't causing a drop in spending so far, but that could change if inflation levels continue.

"How far can this go before it starts to be a significant drain on the consumer decisions that the individual person in Saskatchewan is making?" he said.

Willoughby says a recent hike in interest rates could slow inflation. However, it's unclear how long that might take or whether further rate hikes will be required.

Kary says she's concerned but she's also confident Saskatoon's residents will continue to support the Friendship Inn and other similar services.

"We have a caring and compassionate community that knows serving those who are vulnerable is important and needed," she said. "We're grateful to everyone who continues to keep us top of mind."