Extremely cold winter blamed for rise in food bank use

The extremely cold winter is being blamed for an increased use of food banks in Windsor.

Salvation Army says it has seen a 25% increase and spent $70K on extra food

The extremely cold winter is being blamed for an increased use of food banks. (CBC News)

The extremely cold winter is being blamed for an increased use of food banks in Windsor.

During a typical winter, the Salvation Army food bank in downtown Windsor serves approximately 50 people. This year, it's helping 70.

"Our number is high because of the cold weather," said Hua Zhang of the Windsor Salvation Army.

High heating costs have hit low-income families hard this year. Many budgeted money for their utility bills based on last winter.

This winter has been an extraordinary one for snow and cold and it's many scrambling for help.

"Most people, the low-income, they pay their heating bills and and they don't have much money left," Zhang said.

When Nadia Majeed moved to Canada from Iraq five years ago, she expected cold but not as cold as it has been.

Majeed's heating bill has climbed so much she has little money left for food. She uses the Salvation Army's food bank.

"It's very hard, especially this winter," Majeed said. "The bill is very high."

Most of the food at the Salvation Army is donated but Zhang admits it has had to dip into its money to keep the shelves stocked.

The Salvation Army estimates it has spent roughly $70,000 on extra food between April 2013 and March 2014.

Spending more money means, in some cases, funding could be reduced in other areas.

"We try not to do because each services needs its own money, funding to survive," Zhang said.

At the Downtown Mission, Dave Hayes has also noticed an increase in use of the food bank there.

"What we've noticed, especially this past year is the number of singles and families have increased for the need of food, and help in general," Hayes said.

Hayes said the weather does play a role but so does the economy.

Windsor's unemployment rate is 6.9 per cent, now it's lowest in years.

June Muir, CEO Unemployed Help Centre, said the cost of utilities is "huge."

"Utility costs have gone up. It's just something you have to pay and you have no control of the cost," Muir said. "And the cost is huge.

"So it's very difficult when you're earning minimum wage, paying rent and trying to feed your family and then pay high utility costs".

The Unemployment Help Centre runs the Keep the Heat program to help people keep their heat on.

Last year, the Keep the Heat program helped nearly 3,500 people.