Columbia Valley food bank use on the rise

A recent surge in the cost of food has pushed a number of families further into poverty with Columbia Valley residents struggling

A recent surge in the cost of food has pushed a number of families further into poverty with Columbia Valley residents struggling to put food on their tables due to unexpected increases.

The Columbia Valley Food Bank recently reported a 14 per cent increase in use among local families between September and November 2015 compared to the same time period recorded locally from the last three years.

“We seem to be having a bit more of an increase than the national average,” said Ronald Stainthorpe, board chair of the Columbia Valley Food Bank, while noting the use of Canadian food banks has increased by 26 per cent since 2008, according to the HungerCount 2015.

According to Food Banks Canada’s annual report, more than 850,000 Canadians used food banks during March 2015, and of those, nearly 80,000 accessed a food bank for the first time.

But Stainthorpe added March is an unusually busy month at food banks everywhere.

“B.C. is showing a 2.8 per cent increase (100,086 people assisted) in March 2015,” he explained. “We’re probably more than that, but March is a really unusually large and busy month for us, so if we look at the last three months from September to November — comparing to the past three years — we’re about 14 per cent higher in number of people for those three months than we were in the three previous years, which is quite a large increase.”

He stated that Alberta had also seen an increase of 23.4 per cent (67,443 people assisted) in March 2015 according to the HungerCount 2015, and believes the economic downturn in Alberta and the East Kootenay region may be comparable.

“Alberta has gone up 23.4 per cent from one year to the next, which is much more than any other province so maybe the economic situation over there trickles over here,” explained Stainthorpe.

But there’s no such a thing as a typical food bank user.

Food Banks Canada data indicates that one in six food bank users are employed, and 67 per cent of households are helped by food banks live in rental housing and pay market-level rent.

“There’s a belief that only a narrow section of our population uses a food bank, but that’s not the case,” explained Jeff Schwartz, Consolidated Credit Counselling Services of Canada executive director, in a recent press release. “Food insecurity affects a range of Canadians from families to singles, retired to working class.”

Schwartz encourages the “financially vulnerable” to assess their situation, create a budget, prioritize needs and forget wants as well as to use the tools that are available.

“Whether it’s low wages, high housing costs, credit card debt with crippling interest charges, or any other day-to-day living expenses, it’s becoming harder and harder for Canadians to make ends meet,” said Schwartz. “Increases in food bank usage since 2008 show that people are still in need.”

As a result of the growing crisis, the Columbia Valley Food Bank has recently been participating in several fundraising campaigns to raise money and canned products for the food bank over the Christmas holidays

Stainthorpe said the food bank typically needs canned fruit and veggies, meat, soup, rice, pasta and school snacks before the holidays.

“While our shelves are pretty full right now, that food can go very quickly and we really can use the standard food donations like peanut butter, jams, soups, cereal, canned fruit and vegetables, etc,” he said. “Money is always nice too as it goes to buy the meat, fresh vegetables and bread that go into our hampers. We are so thankful for the support provided by the valley and its visitors over the holiday season.”

The Columbia Valley Food Bank is open Tuesday and Thursday every week between 1 and 2 p.m., as well as 5:30 to 7 p.m. on the third Wednesday each month at a small space in the basement of the Invermere Public Library at 201-7th Avenue. It offers people access to food, safe handling procedures and healthy meal information. To make a donation or access programming, call the Columbia Valley Food Bank at 250-342-0850.

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