The rising cost of fuel, rent and increased food costs over the last few months has resulted in a rising number of people finding themselves needing to access the services of the Barrie Food Bank.
This ongoing increase of the overall cost of living, noted executive director Sharon Palmer, means they are seeing more people than ever before using their services, adding the organization has seen a dramatic increase in use by refugees that have come to the city, as well as families with children.
“I think that’s a reflection of the impact of inflation. As food costs go up and gas is still high, rent is still high — everything we need to buy is more expensive right now,” she told BarrieToday. “With kids going back to school there are always expenses around that. That’s just pushing more people into that category of having to get extra help.”
Palmer says the food bank is now seeing individuals return that they haven’t seen in several years, as well as an influx in post-secondary students accessing its services.
“This is a tough time for students. If they haven’t been away at school before and not realizing how expensive it is to live in Barrie, I think that can be difficult for students as well," she said.
Another trend Palmer is seeing is individuals who used to donate to the food bank now needing to come and access it for help.
“I think that speaks to the wonderful character of people. When they can give, they do. And then you see that sometimes happen where somebody has been a recipient of the food bank and then they are able to donate,” she said. “If that changes sometimes we see them back again. It’s interesting just to see how grateful people are when they have received service, and how they want to give back when they can.”
The number of households accessing the food bank in August 2022 is up 60 per cent compared to the same period last year, said Palmer, adding the organization is currently seeing more than 3,000 individuals each month.
“One member per household is coming in, but we are feeding additional people in that household,” she said, adding although the shelves typically look stocked, the food that comes in doesn’t last long. “The shelves are a little bit misleading. We always have stuff coming in, but the problem is it goes out just as fast. With that many people coming in, it really moves quickly.”
That’s why ongoing food drives — including the Thanksgiving Food and Financial Drive, which kicked off Wednesday, Sept. 21 and runs until the end of October — is so important, she noted.
“With this food drive, we are just trying to get ahead. We know that fall is often a really busy time. You’ve got Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up and it’s often the busiest season for clients,” she said, noting the goal is to raise $150,000 and 150,000 pounds of food.
Typically, food bank use goes down in the summer months, however that was not the case this year, Palmer acknowledged.
“It continued to go up during the summer and we expect it to continue to rise with the impact of inflation,” she said.
Another factor was the number of individuals that became homeless this summer, she added, telling BarrieToday the food bank served a lot of clients over the last few months who were “living rough.”
“We have a special service for them so they can come in and pick up a bag of food every few days if they need it. We make it easy so they can come by and pick up some bread, canned goods," Palmer said. "We try to accommodate people who have no cooking facilities by providing them with some ready to eat food like pull-top can of tuna, granola bars, fruit cups… and if we have extra donated fruit from the grocery stores we will give them apples or nectarines to help give them some extra nutritional value.”
Some of the most needed food items at the moment include canned tomatoes, pasta and pasta sauce, peanut butter, canned tuna, ham and chicken, soups, stews, cereal, coffee, and school snacks such as granola bars. Personal hygiene items such as body wash, shampoo, toothpaste, feminine hygiene products and diapers ranging in size from four to six are also needed.
Online donations can be made at BarrieFoodBank.org or cheques can be mailed to P.O. Box 145, Barrie, Ont., L4M 4S9, or delivered to 42 Anne St. S., Unit 2, Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Food collection bins are located around the city at local grocery stores including Zehrs, Loblaws, No Frills, Metro, FreshCo, Food Basics, Sobeys and Wholesale Club. Food items can also drop off items at the Barrie Food Bank at 42 Anne St. S., Unit 2, behind Pioneer Family Pools.