Families with empty stomachs live in every corner of Saskatoon, and the number of people who use the city’s food bank is growing.
A troubling statistic has emerged from the Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre as Hunger Awareness Week comes to a close. Last year, the organization saw an average of 15,000 people a month come in for food. So far this year, that number has increased to an average of between 16,000 and 18,000—or up to 3,000 more people a month.
“I’m hearing everyone talk about the rising cost of food. So that’s got to be putting a strain on people’s budgets,” said Laurie O’Connor, the food bank’s executive director.
She said the healthiest food is often the most expensive, and the food bank can only offer fresh produce during the summer and early fall.
O’Connor said the public might be surprised by the diversity of people needing to turn to the food bank. They come from nearly every neighbourhood in the city, she points out, not just the urban core. Some people even drive in from communities like Warman and Martensville, she said.
“A food basket is two to three days worth of food. So you know that people must be struggling if they’re willing to drive in to get a basket for two to three days, that they really must have not much on their shelves.”
According to the food bank, 44 per cent of its users are children. Seven per cent are post-secondary students and five per cent are seniors.
And almost a quarter of people in need of nourishment are considered the “working poor.”
“They’re actually working one or two minimum wage jobs and just not being able to get ahead or maintain equilibrium in their lives,” O’Connor said.
Many users are in a vulnerable place and therefore hesitant to talk about their circumstances, she said. O’Connor recently saw a young mother pick up a hamper who she could tell was using the food bank for the first time.
“The kids were excited to see that there was some cereal there, and I sort of saw that look in her eye thinking ‘yeah, great, cereal, but you know, I don’t have any milk at home.’”
The Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre is able to provide milk to anyone with children under 18 years old. Food hampers are available for pick-up twice a month and usually contain only non-perishable food items. But right now, the food bank is offering an array of garden vegetables thanks to the harvest from its community garden patch program.
While users love the fresh produce, O’Connor said some vegetables are unfamiliar to them. That’s why the food bank offers cooking demonstrations and hands out recipes to accompany foods like beets and zucchinis.
O’Connor stresses that the food bank is about more than just food. The organization also runs a clothing depot and a learning centre that includes literacy, counselling and workplace-education programs to address the root problems of poverty in the city.
“What we hope is that with the government sort of agreeing to a poverty reduction strategy, that we’ll be able to have some systems change, which will actually make a difference in people’s lives.”