Across the Coast, food bank demand is rising, says Chris Hergesheimer, lead food programmer for Sunshine Coast Community Services Society.
Hergesheimer didn’t have exact numbers across the Coast but said that together, the four food banks are serving thousands of people. “And there’s a wealth of research and knowledge that suggests that only about a third, even to a quarter, of people who are experiencing food insecurity access food through those programs,” he added. (Hergesheimer also has a PhD from UBC’s Faculty of Land and Food Systems.)
“Rising food prices, and rent and cost of childcare and labour shortages, and things like that are all going to contribute,” said Hergesheimer. “We’re seeing people having to cut into their food budget to meet all their other basic needs.”
Pender Harbour’s food bank coordinator, Joka Wright, says their clientele has doubled from pre-COVID numbers.
“We have had to meet an ever-changing face of people who find themselves in the difficult position; they cannot afford to buy food and pay the rent as well,” Wright wrote in an email. “Some renters find themselves evicted due to landlords choosing to sell because of rising real estate prices, if they are able to find new lodgings the rental cost is double what they previously paid.
“Persons who previously thought they were comfortable, now debate whether they need to join the food bank ranks, because of the food cost continuing to escalate.”
The Sunshine Coast’s four food banks have before them the goal of raising $150,000 in the third annual Coast Wide Food Bank Drive.
The initiative pulls together Sechelt’s Sunshine Coast Community Services Society (SCCSS) Sunshine Coast Food Bank, Pender Harbour Community Church Food Bank, and Gibsons’s two food banks – St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church food bank and Harvest of Hope Salvation Army Food Bank. The campaign also has a partnership with the Sunshine Coast Foundation, which has set up an endowment fund. Raised money is to be divided equitably among the banks and some is to be set aside in the endowment fund.
Beyond individual contributions, the campaign is issuing challenges for realtors and encouraging institutions to donate (Sunshine Coast Credit Union has stepped forward with $10,000).
“We need a balance of funds and food,” said Hergesheimer. Where in the past there were many donations of non-perishable foods, food banks are in a position to leverage funds in a different way than the average consumer, said Hergesheimer, and they can buy the fresh foods many of the people accessing food banks want. “And those things require economic resources.”
43 years isn’t an emergency
While this campaign is about meeting the immediate and ongoing emergent needs of the Coast’s food banks, Hergesheimer also wants to raise awareness of the need for structural change.
In the first months of COVID, when there was ready social support from governments, food bank use went down, said Hergesheimer. “That’s shoring up the large evidence base that’s already out there about more supports needed.
“Food insecurity at our scale, where we live, is about income,” said Hergesheimer. “Because we don’t have harvests lost to locusts or because of war or those types of things.”
“Examining what some of those solutions might be in terms of structural change, whether it’s around transportation or childcare, or supports for lower income seniors living alone, or single-family households that can help us get to the root of that, is certainly the work that we need to be doing.”
“We often talk about it as the emergency food sector,” said Hergesheimer “Something that’s been around for 43 years is not an emergency in that sense.
“Food banks were initially set up to respond to particular shocks, to inflation or disasters or things like that,” said Hergesheimer. “Now they have become institutions within communities and within societies.”
“We need to be looking at what’s the end, what’s the exit strategy, to get to a place where they are not needed, at least at the scale that they are. Where food is a human right, and where income-based solutions and policy solutions start to ensure that all Canadians, all people, have access to safe and affordable and nutritious food to live a healthy life.”
Hergesheimer added that Community Services is looking at expanding its food programming.
Past models of food banks have a history of sometimes not being the most welcoming environment, said Hergesheimer. But on the Coast, programmers, coordinators and volunteers are working hard to make sure that’s not the case.
“All of the food banks on the Coast are really progressive and working harder at making sure that they’re welcoming, inviting spaces where you can get food to help me meet those daily needs.”