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Lack of donations, high inflation crippling food banks this Thanksgiving

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Food banks in Canada are noticing fewer food items being donated this fall.

In the past, Canadians have donated generously to their community food banks, food centres and charities, ensuring the most vulnerable have food on their tables during holidays.

This year, amid high inflation rates, food banks believe many are trying to keep food on their own table, resulting in fewer item donations.

Between September and December, food banks across Canada kick off holiday food drives, hoping to gather food for families to enjoy in the cooler months and accepting monetary donations to buy items in bulk. But less food being donated means more of it needs to be purchased.

“We've raised more money than last year, but not enough to feed the number of people who now need us,” Meghan Nicholls, CEO of the Mississauga Food Bank, told CTVNews.ca in an interview Wednesday. “We're over the $600,000 mark again, but this year, instead of needing $500,000, we need $1.5 million.”

Thanks to rising food prices and 60 per cent more clients than pre-pandemic levels, the Ontario-based food bank says it is desperate for donations.

Inflation declined to seven per cent year-over-year in August, according to the latest numbers from Statistics Canada, but people across the country are still grappling with the increased cost of goods from gas to food. During the holiday season alone, some staples usually spread across the dinner table have increased exponentially in price.

A previous article by CTVNews.ca reported how the price of some Thanksgiving staples have increased as much as 22 per cent this year compared to last year, according to data compiled by Dalhousie University's Agri-Food Analytics Lab. Turkey alone has increased by an average of 15 per cent compared to last year, the data reads.

As Canadians pinch their wallets, there is less to give to charities like the Mississauga Food Bank.

“We've been able to offset the lower amounts of community donations by purchasing food and getting it donated from corporations or wholesalers,” Nicholls said. “But there is a limit to that, and we're having to spend heavily to do that.”

Nicholls highlighted the fact that the Mississauga Food Bank has been the recipient of generous donations from the community over the last two years. She appreciates the situation the food bank is in may not be the same for all organizations across the country.

“For small food banks in some communities who perhaps didn't receive more than they needed during COVID, now they don't have that cushion to fall back on now that the general public isn't thinking about those donations like they did during COVID,” she explained.

Those small communities are spread across Canada but are concentrated in the northern territories, like Nunavut, where 46.1 per cent of households reported moderate to severe food insecurity in 2020, according to PROOF, a University of Toronto report on food insecurity in Canada.

“We have seen a really, really drastic increase in demand over the last year,” Rachel Blais, executive director of the Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre, told CTVNews.ca over the phone Wednesday. “From January on, demand for our daily meal has risen on average by about 12 per cent every month.”

The community food centre not only provides nutritious meals for the 7,500-person community in Iqaluit, but also helps connect clients with social services and provides cooking classes.

Blais said the summer months are usually quieter because the community is able to hunt and gather food, but this year she said the numbers are “startling.” After the Canada Recovery Benefit ended in October 2021, which gave supplementary income to people who didn’t qualify for employment insurance benefits, she noticed an increase in demand.

“This time last year, we were serving about 150 meals a day on average. Right now, we're serving between 450 to 500 meals a day,” she said.

The northern community has been drastically impacted by inflation this year, as many products are already at a premium price because due to shipping challenges. Previously, Blais said, the food centre could purchase an 18-kilogram case of bananas in July 2021 for $18.72, but by June 2022 it cost $40.87.

“Prior to COVID, prior to inflation rates starting to rise … the most current stat that we have is that 77.6 per cent of Inuit over the age of 15 are experiencing food insecurity,” Blais said. “So, food insecurity in Nunavut was already called the longest-lasting public health emergency in Canadian history.”

Not only is it difficult to continue to access healthy food for the community at a reasonable price, but Blais also said the demand has reached capacity for the small organization. Usually, food centre staff are able to provide one hot meal a day to community members, but now as more people turn towards the centre, food goes more quickly.

“What we have had to do is we've had to have a backup, essentially of a couple hundred sandwiches, some fruit and granola bars, that people can take and go because … we don't have any more space on our stoves to put another pot of soup,” Blais said. 

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