Vancouver food bank usage see’s all time high as demand rises across Canada

A community fridge and pantry in Vancouver says demand is so high, most of the food is gone within a few hours of stocking. Monika Gul reports it’s a sign of the growing food insecurity problem in Canada.

A new report from Food Banks Canada shows a record high of almost 1.5 million Canadians are relying on food banks.

One community fridge and pantry in Vancouver says the demand is so high, most of the food offered is gone a few hours after stocking the shelves.

The Collingwood Neighborhood House, located by Joyce St. and Euclid Ave., works at providing free food for anyone who wants it.

But Grace Wampold, the acting food hub coordinator at the organization, says the pantry can’t keep up with the need.

tomatoes in fridge door

A new report from Food Banks Canada shows a record high of almost 1.5 million Canadians are relying on food banks. (Monika Gul/CityNews)

“We try our best to stock it with donations everyday, but we still can’t really meet the demands of the community,” she explained. “The community fridge can only do so much.”

The CEO of the Greater Vancouver Food Bank says people everywhere are turning to food banks because of the rising food insecurity.

“In Vancouver, we’ve seen a 29 per cent increase in a year. We’re now looking after about 14,000 people a month, on top of probably 20,000 people in our agency distribution area,” David Long explained.

Long says the food bank distributed $1.9 million of food in September, and he doesn’t expect the need to go down any time soon.

The report says skyrocketing food and housing costs, high inflation, and low social assistance rates are behind the spike.

“We know that people across the country are feeling the effects of global inflation, which has increased the cost of living in every aspect,” Nicholas Simons, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction told CityNews.

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“Our government is committed to improving food security by addressing the complex root causes of poverty…Since 2019, the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction has provided $26 million to planning and implementing poverty reduction and food security initiatives in communities around B.C.,” Simons explained.

As the lead investigator of PROOF, a program that researches food insecurity in Canada, Valerie Tarasuk explains improving people’s financial situations may be one way of addressing food insecurity.

“Anything that puts more money in the pockets of people that are low-income, decreases the probability of food insecurity,” Tarasuk said. “Whether that policy change is an increase in welfare benefits, or an increase in minimum wage, or the introduction of the Canada Child benefit.”

Long says the Greater Vancouver Food Bank has seen this firsthand — albeit temporarily.

“At the start of the pandemic, which was when the CERB cheques were going out, every food bank saw a decrease in food bank usage,” he said.

Long explains the food bank has seen about 1,000 new clients per month — but he says there’s more than enough food in Canada to feed everyone.

“What we are seeing is the combination of long-term effects to a broken social safety net combined with the effects of inflation and high costs driving more people to use food banks than ever before in Canadian history,” Kirstin Beardsley, CEO of Food Banks Canada said.

sign that reads the community free fridge in blue paint

The Collingwood Neighborhood House works at providing free food for anyone who wants it. (Monika Gul/CityNews)

Tarasuk says food banks are intended to provide temporary assistance, and are not a long-term solution.

“[Food banks] provide some short-term relief for people but if you think about it, we’ve had food banks in Canada now for more than 40 years and, like, that’s a long time, and the number of people using food banks may go up or down but the problem of food insecurity is festering. We don’t have any evidence that expanding food charity will diminish this problem.”

Simons adds food security is a continuing problem, and the department is working on it.

“We know there is more work to do and we are determined to continue our work to break the cycle of poverty in B.C.” Simons added.

But Long says it may be time for a “serious discussion of government about a basic income for people.”

Wampold says that adding more community programs, like small-scale agriculture or shared cooking spaces, could help the situation.

“We have to remember what this land was, and what it wants to be. Because the reality is before colonization, people in this area were food sovereign, and there is capacity to bring that back I think,” she said.

With files from Cole Schisler and The Canadian Press

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