Hundreds of new faces are turning up in food lines at Nanaimo’s food bank this summer and officials say many are newly settled Syrian refugees who can’t make ends meet.
This comes just months after they arrived in the city as part of the federal government’s promise to settle 25-thousand Syrian refugees in Canada. But officials say support dollars are running out, and government assistance isn’t enough to cover the refugees monthly expenses.
Sorting through wilting vegetables, volunteer Teresa Lingstrom saves every bit she can of the discarded produce. Food bank supplies need to stretch to feed hundreds more people in Nanaimo than they did a year ago.
“We are definitely seeing more people from Alberta. We are also seeing refugees coming from various countries around the world,” says Peter Sinclair of Nanaimo’s Loaves & Fishes Food bank.
Sinclair says many of those refugees are the newly settled Syrian families that arrived as part of the federal government’s push to bring 25,000 Syrians fleeing war and refugee camps to this country. But now just months after arriving, the donations that helped them get on their feet and find housing are gone, and the financial support they’re getting from the feds that is based on provincial social assistance rates isn’t proving enough to feed their families.
“I think they’re probably not getting enough money from the government and they’re trying to stretch their food dollar,” says Teresa Lingstrom.
“I mean its clear that something is wrong when people need to access the food bank,” says Sinclair. “And so we are a bit of a band aid and there does need to be a better solution than simply having a food bank. But given those solutions are not in place we’re here and we are a great option because we provide an opportunity for the community to care for itself.”
The Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society says all of the new refugees from Syria have found housing, but are now challenged by the monthly refugee resettlement assistance like is being seen in larger communities of Surrey and Toronto.
But Nanaimo is in a unique position to help feed its new residents. Thanks to its one of a kind on the Island food recovery program stocks in this warehouse are still healthy, despite the hundreds more mouths to feed. It collects perishable food from five local grocery stores that would have been headed for the garbage bin, and volunteer sorters find the good that still lies within the cast offs.
“I’m off work and I was starting to feel unproductive so I thought this would be a perfect place to be productive,” says Lingstrom.
At a time this food bank and city’s newest residents need all the help they can get.