Saskatchewan food banks seeing dramatic increase in visitors

There are over 2,300 food banks across Canada, and a study from the University of Calgary reports that in 2019 alone, there were approximately one million monthly visits to food banks nationwide.

Those numbers are on the rise — especially in Saskatchewan.

“If we look at our last full pre-COVID year we would be at about 84,000 points of service. This year we will be up around 120 or 125 thousand points of service. So quite a marked increase of folks looking to us for support,” said Regina Foodbank CEO, John Bailey.

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The Regina Foodbank is seeing a lot of new and first time users of their service.

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“Folks that never actually saw themselves as potentially needing to access the food bank are now doing so,” said Bailey.

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Due to inflation and the COVID-19 pandemic, the buying power of the food bank has decreased and so has the budget of donors.

“As a city and as a province we’re pretty tight most of the time and I think a lot of times you’re one step away from needing to access a food bank and I think the pandemic has really bore that out,” admitted Bailey.

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“Anyone living on a fixed income whether it be a pension or a student loan, minimum wage or assistance of some sort is definitely going to be struggling. Their ability to make more money is greatly diminished and the cost of absolutely everything that they need is rising,” said Saskatoon Food Bank & Learning Centre Executive Director Laurie O’Connor.

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The rising cost of grocery bills and other expenses are leaving families facing tough decisions.

“When you add $1,000 in grocery bills in a year to the average family that’s significant and that leads to choices being made,” said Bailey.

“Sometimes those choices are basically impossible because you’re choosing between gas for the car to get to work or food on the table and that’s where we step in to make sure that we are there to support folks with food.”

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Bailey explained that the money coming in just isn’t matching the money going out for many people.

“I think the challenge is that inflation is outpacing it quite considerably so even if folks are seeing (a) three to four per cent increase in salary, the cost of living is going up give, six, seven, eight and in the case of food as much as nine per cent.”

Saskatchewan food banks aren’t panicking just yet, but they are concerned.

“While we are taxed but sort of in a comfortable space where we know we can meet the needs, if we see another jump comparable to like we did at the beginning of the pandemic we might actually be in a position where we physically can’t serve the community in the way it needs,” said Bailey.

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