By Charlie Senack, Barrhaven Independent
It was a busier than usual year for the Barrhaven Food Cupboard as they saw an increase in calls for service due to the pandemic.
George MacDonald, the centres president, says they saw about a 12 per cent
increase in 2021. Now as they look ahead to 2022, they are expecting that number to increase even more.
“Food prices are increasing, people are still suffering from the ongoing pandemic, and it may increase the demand further than what we have seen,” he told the Barrhaven Independent. “We are fortunate enough to go into the new year with a considerable inventory so our shelves are pretty stocked. That will carry us through for the first couple months of the year, but we normally experience another push around Easter.”
MacDonald says they also saw less food being donated in 2021 due to schools being shut down for a portion of the year. Schools are a main source for food drives which collect hundreds of boxes yearly in Barrhaven alone.
“We had to purchase quite a bit of food which we would not normally do,” MacDonald said. “We have also expanded our offering to include meat, in addition to fresh vegetables, fruit, cheese and yogurt — all those things you would expect when you go to the grocery store — and we have also expanded our offering of personal hygiene products somewhat.”
Over the Christmas season, MacDonald says physical food donations started to pour in again, and also credits local grocers for helping. Many had fill the back programs, and others collected donations at the cash register.
This holiday season also saw an increase in demand for Christmas hampers. Before the pandemic, physical hampers with all the traditional Christmas meal necessities were given to a little under 200 families per year. During the first pandemic Christmas in 2020, that number increased to almost 300 hampers being given out, a 50 per cent jump over last. In 2021, that number increased again.
“Because it was during the pandemic, we did not give out a physical bin with a turkey and everything in it, instead we gave out gift cards so people could go out and purchase what they wanted for their Christmas meal needs,” states MacDonald. “This year we still gave out gift card hampers, and it’s somewhere between 330 to 340 people we are helping — a two thirds increase over the pre pandemic time.”
Next year is expected to be even worse as food prices jump to prices never seen before. A Canada Food Price Report says grocery bills next year are expected to rise anywhere from five to seven per cent — the highest increase reported in 12 years.
Dairy products are supposed to go up six to eight per cent in 2022, along with what it would cost you to dine out at a restaurant. Bakery products and vegetables are supposed to go up five to seven per cent, and fruit prices are expected to jump three to five per cent.
The Barrhaven Food Cupboard, which has around 80 active volunteers, says their main concern isn’t about paying the bills, it’s reaching everyone in the community who has fallen on hard times.
“If I have any concerns maybe it’s that we are not reaching all the people that might need food,” MacDonald said. “We know that there are people out in the community — maybe new Canadians who don’t know about us, or some people who are perhaps too proud to come to us and don’t realize how confidentially we treat their involvement with the food cupboard — and there may be some people that will encounter a setback in their job or family situation that will require them to come to us. We are really there for them. If you need help we are here for you.”
The Ottawa Food Bank is also expecting their demand to ramp up. They have seen a 17 per cent increase in calls for service, and a 15 per cent increase in costs. The food bank typically serves around 39,000 clients a year, but in 2021 that number rose to around 44,000.
“Unfortunately we sort of get hit from both sides when the cost of food goes up because it costs more for us to buy food,” said Rachael Wilson, the Ottawa Food Banks Chief Executive Officer. “We spend over two million dollars a year — particularly on fresh food like dairy, meat and produce, and those are also the things that have gone up exponentially due to inflation. It gets more expensive for us to buy what we need, but also on the other side, it’s more expensive for our clients to buy what they need, so they need to go to a food bank more often. 2022 is looking very challenging and with COVID not going away anytime soon unfortunately we are planning for a long term response to this.”
Both the Ottawa Food Bank and Barrhaven Food Cupboard say that while they appreciate any type of donation which comes their way, cash donations can reach the furthest because for every dollar they receive, it can go much further in food.