Sudbury·Up North

A tale of 5 northern Ontario food banks and their holiday challenges

While this year's CBC Sounds Of the Season specials in northern Ontario broadcast from our stations in Sudbury and Thunder Bay, numerous food banks across the region are working hard to collect donations this time of year.

CBC's Up North spoke to food banks in Dryden, Sault Ste. Marie, Timmins, Kenora and North Bay

Food banks across northern Ontario say they've seen more and more people using their services in the past 10 years. (Supplied)

While this year's CBC Sounds Of the Season specials in northern Ontario broadcast for food drives in Sudbury and Thunder Bay, numerous other food banks across the region are working hard to collect donations this time of year.

Up North, the afternoon program on CBC's Radio One broadcasting across northern Ontario, spoke to officials at several food banks.

A list of what the food banks say they need most can be found on our Facebook page.

Here is what five of them told us about the challenges they face, and some of the programming they are offering.
Food banks count on volunteers to do many tasks to ensure the facilities are kept open and running. (Supplied)

Dryden Food Bank — Dryden, Ont.

In the northwest, Keith Grant, the manager at the food bank in Dryden, Ont., said in the past decade, the use of the Dryden food bank has doubled.

The facility now serves about 250 families every month in a community of over 7,000.

Job losses at the mill in the city over the years coinciding with a historic downturn in the forestry sector, combined with the geographically large area the community food bank serves are key reasons for the high demand, Grant said.

"A lot of families are moving off-reserve to Dryden," he said.  "Especially single moms with children, we've seen that trend over the last few years now, and so its been quite an increase in our food bank usage here in Dryden."

Another issue, he added, is the return of people who went out west to work, coming back with no employment.

Salvation Army Food Bank — Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

Along the eastern shores of Lake Superior in Sault Ste. Marie, job losses have also impacted northern Ontario's steel city and that, in turn, has led to more people relying on food banks.

That includes more families — now totaling about 260, according to Salvation Army Food Bank volunteer Frances Schryer — coming back each month, meaning more children are also relying on the service.

That caused officials to come up with a special program for the youth this holiday season, Schryer said.

The kids never get a chance to get a gift for their parents- Sault food bank volunteer Frances Schryer

"We're doing a kids' shop, where we have donated items from different business in town. . . Children can come in and choose a gift for their parents, completely free and gift wrapped," she said.

"The kids get toys with our hampers. . . But the kids never get a chance to get a gift for their parents."

Timmins Food Bank — Timmins, Ont.

In Timmins, the food bank also has a type of shopping arrangement worked out, but in its case, the program is not a holiday-themed initiative; rather, it's used by everyone.

Rick Young, the head of the food bank, said the system, which allocates tickets to families based on size, also helps cut down on waste.

Families use the tickets like cash in a store, "purchasing" the goods they need.

"Most food banks you go to, they'll give you two bags of food but there's so many people diabetic, they can't eat this, they can't eat that," he said.

"They'll tell you bring it back, but obviously you're not going to walk back to the food bank and bring a few cans or a few boxes. . . back. You're going to throw it away."

Salvation Army Food Bank — Kenora, Ont.

While the cost of groceries continues to rise, some food bank officials said they feel it's being felt more acutely in the north.

In Kenora, Sandra Poole, the business manager with the Salvation Army Food Bank, said those rising costs are resulting in more people turning up at their doors.
The rise in grocery prices has also contributed to more people using food banks, some officials say. (Supplied)

"It's still a struggle to make ends meat at the end of the week, especially for the fresh items," Poole said. 

"We don't have the space or ability to offer the fresh items, but what we do encourage our clients to do is spend what grocery money they do have getting their fresh stuff, and we'll pick up the difference."

North Bay Food Bank — North Bay, Ont.

While more children are relying on food banks, some officials said they have trouble keeping items younger people need in stock.

Things like juice boxes, granola bars and fruit cups — items commonly found in school lunches — are a hot commodity too.
Household items - like toilet paper - are also commonly sought by food banks. (Supplied)

That also goes for basic household items, according to Amber Livingstone, with the food bank in North Bay.

"We can always use things such as soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, feminine hygiene products, toilet paper, diaper wipes, and larger sized diapers," she said, adding that includes size fives, sixes and pullups.

With files from Marina Von Stackelberg

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