By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
When it comes to keeping local food banks stocked, the struggle is real.
At the Salvation Army Food Bank sites and Outreach for Hunger, demand outstrips supply and costs are mounting.
Allie Matthews, Community and Family Services co-ordinator for Salvation Army Chatham-Kent Ministries, said today’s food prices compared to pre-COVID-19 two years ago are up 33 per cent.
Matthews said it’s “wild” the amount of money the agency has had to spend recently to keep food in the pantry.
A spike in rental costs, coupled with a rise in inflation – much of it related to supply-chain issues – has many area residents scrambling to make ends meet.
“We have so many working families using our food banks,” Matthews explained. “The cost of living is going through the roof.”
A single person making $730 a month on Ontario Works can’t afford current market values of $1,000 a month rent or more, and buy food.
The Salvation Army operates four food banks in Chatham-Kent. Clients are allowed to come for assistance every 30 days.
According to Matthews, the busiest spots are in Wallaceburg and Chatham, with each site seeing just over 200 clients a month on average.
The Blenheim and Ridgetown banks are not as busy, Matthews said.
Over at Chatham’s Outreach for Hunger, the situation is the same. Executive director Brenda LeClair said she concurs with Matthews, adding she’s “really noticed a difference this year.
“We’re seeing a lot more need from a lot more families,” LeClair said, noting 2021 has been the most difficult year since she started with Outreach 33 years ago.
Making sure nutritious food is provided is extremely important, LeClair explained, especially for a family with children.
“You can’t live on carbohydrates alone,” she said.
Things have been immeasurably harder by the pandemic, LeClair said, as the usual methods of getting donations were shut.
“We have a lot of support from service clubs and other organizations, but they couldn’t do the usual drives and things because of COVID,” LeClair noted, but said that’s starting to change.
Outreach for Hunger also hands out five to six bags a day for people who are living on the street.
“We give them what we call non-sheltered bags,” she said which include accessible foods such as protein drinks, granola bars and items such as flip-top cans of tuna.
“We have our regulars – we know who they are,” LeClair explained.
And while many local farmers are very generous with seasonal produce, both LeClair and Matthews need to purchase fresh food and can’t believe they are paying 33-per-cent more.
Produce, bread, meat and dairy have all gone up in price.
The Salvation Army is currently gearing up for its annual Christmas drive and will be taking applications for assistance until Nov. 30.
All of the food banks are open to food or cash donations. The Salvation Army is also looking for new and unwrapped toys for its annual toy drive.
Toys will be received until Dec. 4.