Food bank demand surges on south Island amid COVID-19, worries over long-term pressures

Food bank demand surges on south Island amid COVID-19, worries over long-term pressures
WatchWith many Vancouver Islanders facing uncertain financial futures, food banks are seeing a surge in demand. They are keeping up for now, but fear the worst is yet to come.

At the Mustard Seed distribution centre, 9,000 pounds of food comes through the doors. It later goes to those in need every day.

“There is no food at the warehouse at the end of the week that’s for sure,” said Treska Watson, the food security manager with Mustard Seed, which distributes food to organizations in need across the region.

“All of the perishable product is going out to the community.”

Before the pandemic, according to Statistics Canada, one in eight households in Canada couldn’t pay for groceries.

But as the pandemic and resulting economic restrictions drag on, food banks are being hit with an unprecedented increase in demand.

“I think we were expecting an increase, probably not this dramatic this quickly,” said Watson.

“Certainly when COVID-19 started we were looking at maybe things would double, as a safe estimate. But the 80 per cent beyond increase has certainly blown things out of the water. We had no idea how big the need was, how quickly.”

New faces are showing up in need of food. And in some cases, it’s whole communities. Mustard Seed says outlying communities like Indigenous communities, Port Renfrew and Galiano Island, are among those finding themselves reaching out to Mustard Seed to feed their regions.

Over at Rainbow Kitchen in Esquimalt, they’re seeing demand double.

“In March alone we did 13,000 meals from Rainbow Kitchen. That’s a thousand or two thousand meals busier than our 2019 holiday Christmas season,” said Patrick Johnstone, director of the Victoria Rainbow Kitchen Society.

“To have a ‘Christmas’ in the middle of March…it’s been an adjustment.”

And while both the federal and provincial government is trying to fill in the gaps with funding, food banks are anticipating the worst is yet to come.

“To not have food at the end of the day, to wonder where your next meal is going to come from, this is a real issue in our community and it’s not going to get any smaller,” said Johnstone.

“We are seeing increased numbers daily and that’s going to continue that adjusted paycheques are happening for regular families. It’s going to hit the next group of us as well.”

Regardless of what’s ahead, these South Island Food Banks are dedicated to feeding as many people as the can, no questions asked.

For those who can donate, cash is king, and so are high protein items like canned fish and peanut butter.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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