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Anna Gray packing food at the Food Stash Foundation warehouse. Photo: Beth Rochester

Vancouver food charities cannot keep up with demand

Increasing demand for food aid has forced Vancouver food charities to close their client streams.

By Beth Rochester , in City , on February 28, 2023

The Vancouver food charity Food Stash Foundation has been forced to close its waitlist after being overwhelmed with the number of people requiring support.

Food Stash is not the only food charity dealing with high numbers.

The CityReach Care Society experienced a tenfold increase in clients in 2020, according to Sharon Dong, director of CityReach’s food for families department.

“We went from 100 families to 1000 families. Once we hit capacity, we weren’t able to accept any more new families into the program,” said Dong. “They are quite devastated because our families are telling us that they want to be supported by somebody in the community.”

Food charities are being hit hard as more people turn to them under economic stress.

Covid and inflation largely to blame

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a sharp increase in demand for food aid, said Anna Gray, communications co-ordinator at the Food Stash Foundation.

“More and more people are feeling the effects of COVID so there’s more people looking for food aid,” said Gray.

Gray also said the subsequent inflation crisis was one of the main reasons for their increase in clients.

The B.C. government reported that the inflation rate reached 6.9 per cent in 2022 – the highest rate in 40 years.

“We recently did a survey with UBC, and 91 per cent of the people who came into our market who answered were indicating that inflation and cost of living were the reason they were coming,” said Gray.

Increasing visitors are expected to continue

Hunger Count, an arm of Food Banks Canada that collects statistics on the demographics of people experiencing food shortages, reported that the number of people visiting food banks increased by 15 per cent from 2021 to 2022. That rise is expected to continue in 2023.

A recent survey by Ontario-based Second Harvest, a group that works to reduce food waste, reported that the number of people relying on non-profit organizations for food per month is expected to increase by 60 per cent in 2023.

“It’s a growing issue that’s across the board with food charities,” said Gray. “There’s clearly an increased number of people needing that support that wasn’t there before.”

With the prediction that just over 8.2 million people will need food-related programs in 2023, food charities are hoping for greater support.

Infrastructure and funding is needed to cope with demand

Dong believes that CityReach would be better equipped to cope with their increasing clients if the organization could rely on an infrastructure umbrella.

“If there was collective infrastructure that all the organizations can share, then that could be a game changer,” said Dong. “We could receive more rescued food, have a place to put the food and have a place where the community can access the food.”

Volunteers at the CityReach warehouse filtering out fresh food from donations. 

While this is an immediate solution, Dong said that a longer-term initiative for food charities across Vancouver is needed to be able to help community members. She said funding is the key to a more permanent solution.

“A lot of the funding goes from year to year, but these are persistent issues. These people still need to be fed every single day.” said Dong. “They have to look at funding longer term.”

Gray agreed that food charities would be better equipped to cope with the increasing demand with greater funds.

“We rely on a lot of grants and fundraising from the public. If we had a steady governmental financial backing, I think it would just relieve some of that stress for us,” said Gray. “We could have more staff dedicated to market operations or packing more bags.”

Non-profit organizations like these do not usually receive governmental backing but Gray said that is the real solution.

“As a charity, we’re not the long-term solution for solving hunger. Food is a human right. Action needs to be taken by more allocation being given to food insecurity within the government’s budget.”