Working families fuel rising demand at Greater Vancouver Food Bank
The number of people accessing the food bank jumped last summer and never stopped rising.
The number of working people turning to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank is rising at triple the rate of those with other income sources such as pensions and income assistance.
“(Client interviews) show an increase in the number of working people, up about 86 per cent over last year,” said Cynthia Boulter, the chief development officer at the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society. “That’s the most of any category.”
The food bank has served 21,700 clients in the past 12 months, and 6,000 of those were first-time visitors.
The city’s rental market is a big part of the problem.
The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Vancouver is about $3,100, the most expensive rate in Canada, according to Padmapper.com. Burnaby is not far behind at $2,250.
Compare that with Calgary ($1,300), Edmonton ($1,210), Montreal ($1,785) and Ottawa ($1,570).
“I think in Vancouver, particularly, where the cost of living is so high, just because you have a job doesn’t mean you can afford to pay all of your bills and feed yourself well,” said Boulter.
About one in five B.C. children live in poverty, according to the most recent B.C. Child Poverty Report Card. That is about 10 per cent higher than the Canadian average.
“(M)any are growing up in deep poverty — up to $13,000 below the poverty line,” the report reads. “This includes poor households where one or more parents are working.”
The food bank is overhauling its data collection to better understand its client base, but information currently collected at registration reveals stresses that are unique to this market.
“We ask a few questions when people come to register, and as they continue to visit us we check in and ask if their circumstances have changed and whether they have an income,” said Boulter.
The Greater Vancouver Food Bank serves fewer children than food banks in other cities, as real estate prices and high rents have driven families toward Surrey, Maple Ridge and beyond.
Nevertheless, the number of families with children using the Greater Vancouver Food Bank is rising, and those numbers will take a predictable leap when schools close for the summer.
The number of people accessing the food bank typically peaks in the summer when many school meal programs go on hiatus, Boulter said.
“Last July, we started seeing more than 6,000 people a week,” she said.
But instead of declining in the fall, the number of people coming through the doors continued to rise.
The Greater Vancouver Food Bank provides food to people directly at 13 distribution centres in Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster and North Vancouver, and they supply food to 80 community agencies that in turn support another 20,000 people.
“In the 13 locations where we provide food directly, that’s where we’ve really seen an increase in demand,” she said. “Individual visits are over 8,000 a week, so that’s up 24 per cent. Household visits — where someone comes in representing their household — are up about 20 per cent.”
If the trend line continues, the food bank will be serving 9,000 people a week by summer.
One in four British Columbians has used a food bank at some point in their lives, according to a recent survey funded by Catelli, a major food bank sponsor.
About 22 per cent of people surveyed said they had skipped a meal at some time in the past 12 months because they couldn’t afford to eat.