B.C. food-aid organization sees spike in demand for services

A B.C. organization that provides meals to children says it is seeing a massive spike in demand for its services and has a waitlist for the first time in more than a decade.

Backpack Buddies feeds thousands of hungry children weekly across neighborhoods in B.C. by delivering more than 6,000 bags of food every Friday.

Those behind the organization say they hope to fill the “weekend hunger gap,” where children rely on school-based programs during the week but have scarce meal support outside of school hours.

“The goal is [for kids] to come to school Monday morning not one step behind, able to focus and ready to learn,” Emily-anne King, executive director of Backpack Buddies, told CityNews.

The organization has seen a steady trend in demand for its program since 2020, which King describes as “a bit alarming.” She also adds “resources are stretched so thin” as the group’s program supports over 6,000 children a week and over 22 sites on their waitlist.

“There are families reaching out for our support now that may have never have been worried about putting food on the table before. But inflation, cost of living, all of these things have compounded to tip a whole new population of people into vulnerability and that’s where we’re really seeing our demand come from right now,” she said.

In addition to the demand, Backpack Buddies is also struggling with inflation, saying its monthly grocery bill is expected to go up by close to $20,000 this fall compared to the same time last year.

King says the group is seeing increases across the board, noting apples are up around 60 per cent and oatmeal packages are up around 24 per cent.

“We are sending 12,000 apples a week, so when you are buying that many it makes a huge difference in the long run,” she added. “If we’re feeling it, I can’t imagine what families are feeling.”

The organization heavily relies on fundraisers and donations, but King says Backpack Buddies is receiving fewer donations than usual at this time.

“It’s heartbreaking for all of us at the organization doing this work … we hear the need and the desperation on the other end of the phone looking for help for kids,” said King.

Amid the increase in demand and cost pressures, she says the organization can’t help everyone reaching out.

“We are working as hard as we can to rise up to these challenges and I do have hope … it’s not a no, it’s just a not right now.”

More information about Backpack Buddies can be found on its website.

-With files from Greg Bowman

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