Times Colonist

More rely on food banks

- JUDITH LAVOIE jlavoie@timescolon­ist.com — with Postmedia News

Seniors, children and the working poor are turning up in increasing numbers at Greater Victoria food banks where staff fear that volume is likely to grow.

The number of people relying on food banks is increasing on the Saanich Peninsula and West Shore, but the Mustard Seed Food Bank in Victoria saw a slight drop last month.

“We are looking at 6,800, which is a drop of about 200 people compared to last month,” said Mustard Seed director Brent Palmer.

“But what we are noticing in the last couple of months is an increase in new clients and, now that it is close to Christmas, I think we will be over the 7,000 we were at last year.”

The fluctuatio­ns are similar to national figures, released Tuesday by Food Banks Canada, which show that about 700,000 Canadians, about two per cent of the population, rely on food banks. More than one third are children under 18.

Food bank use dropped nationally by two per cent from 2010, but is still 26 per cent higher than it was before the 2008 recession.

More than 90,000 British Columbians used a food bank in the past year, up 15 per cent from 2008.

In Victoria most of those using the Mustard Seed are on government assistance, but, with higher food prices and housing costs, seniors are being seen for the first time, Palmer said.

“Seniors who are living on their retirement funds are facing significan­t hardship,” he said.

Gayle Ireland, of Goldstream Food Bank, said: “We are getting more and more seniors.” The difficulty is illustrate­d by the food bank’s figures, which show that the cost of food has increased by 17 per cent and donations have dropped 30 per cent over the past year, Ireland said.

This week’s increase in the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour will help, food bank administra­tors agreed.

“But we’re playing catch-up. It should have been done 10 years ago,” Palmer said. “I would like someone to sit down and explain to me how someone can survive on $10 an hour.”

At Goldstream, Ireland hopes the increase will help parents.

This year, out of 8,505 people served by the food bank, 2,777 were children under 17.

Last year, 7,727 people were served, of whom 2,428 were children.

The biggest jump in the region is at the Sidney Lions Food Bank with an increase of more than 10 per cent over the past year.

“It’s going through the roof. It’s the working poor — moms and dads who can’t make ends meet,” said administra­tor Bev Elder.

“We take care of 1,200 people a month and there are 40,000 living on the Peninsula,” she said.

The food bank is moving to bigger premises at 9586 Fifth Street this week.

The new location has a bigger warehouse and is more central, Elder said.

B.C. NDP social developmen­t critic Shane Simpson said the provincial government must bring in a legislated poverty reduction strategy, such as in Ontario and Quebec. Increasing the minimum wage will help, but won’t fix the problem, he said.

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