In today’s economy, even wealthy residents of the province are inclined to tut-tut about the rising price of food.
Take cauliflower — regularly selling at $7.99 a head in St. John’s-area supermarkets — which has become the poster vegetable for the steep price increases on fresh produce. That kind of price is more than irksome for those among us who have a hard time filling the vegetable crisper at the best of times.
Eg Walters of the Community Food Sharing Association (CFSA) spoke with The Telegram recently about the effect of an economic downturn on such consumers.
“When you’re on a very restricted income, you can’t really afford to go out and pay $8 for a cauliflower, so you may be using your money that you have for mostly root vegetables — your potatoes, your carrot, your turnip and your cabbage,” he said.
With quickly rising unemployment in the province, more people are finding themselves in that boat, and Walters said more people are already making use of food banks.
Statistics Canada puts the province’s unemployment rate at 16.8 per cent in January — the highest it’s been in years.
“Provincially there’s a little over 25,000 people — that’s 25,000 individuals — who are accessing food banks on a regular monthly basis. That’s down a little bit from previous years, but those figures are as of March 2015,” Walters said, referring to Food Banks Canada’s Hunger Count 2015 numbers.
“We expect those figures to go up this year. From what we’ve seen over the past four or five months, there’s been an increased activity in individuals not only going to food banks regularly, but we’re seeing an influx of first-time users as well.”
More families in Marystown
Marystown appears to have been particularly hard-hit. Linda Stockley said the Salvation Army food bank she runs in the town has seen a huge increase in families using the service — 20 per cent more than the previous year.
“When I went back over my figures, that was a startling thing to me. When you’re doing it every month, or every few days, you don’t notice that, so when I went back over my stats and realized it’s a 20 per cent increase — and then children have got to go to school, so they’ve got to have lunches, which is another thing,” she said. “We don’t always have donations here that cover children’s lunches.”
There are many pieces to the puzzle, including the end of the Kiewit project, which employed about 1,250 people at its peak, the economic downturn and grocery prices.
Stockley said the community continues to be generous with donations, but $10 worth of donated food looks different than it did a few months ago.
“Ten dollars’ worth of food today is not even going to go near where that was to then. So that’s going to be the impact. You’re going to get your donations, but they’re not going to be as big, and they’re not going to be able to cover as many people.”
Stockley said she expects an even greater increase in food bank users in the town this year, as employment insurance runs out for workers laid off when the Kiewit project wound down.
Walters said that increase is likely going to be a common trend across the province.
“With the economy the way it’s going now, people are trying to keep their businesses going, and they have very few options, really,” he said. “They either have to lay off staff or cut back on community projects, and I think that’s what we’re going to see throughout Newfoundland and Labrador for the next year, and I would anticipate … food bank usage will probably go up between five and eight per cent this year.”
Like the food bank in Marystown, the CFSA has been receiving consistent donations of non-perishable items. Its fresh produce is donated by local supermarkets, and steep price increases have not diminished those.
But the association did notice a dip in monetary donations around the holidays, and it is bracing for a period of fewer donations over the next few months. While the annual food drive that coincides with NL Oil & Gas Week is going ahead as usual starting next week, this year it will do so with a little less participation.
A spokeswoman for Husky Energy confirmed the company will not take part this time around.
“We support the Community Food Sharing Association in a variety of different ways in any given year,” she said. “This event is not one of the activities we are participating in this year.”
Walters said he understands the strain on the company, which recently announced layoffs. He isn’t sure yet what sort of effect that will have on the CFSA and its food banks, and hopes other oil and gas companies and contractors will continue to support the food drive.
He said donations from the food drive normally come in early March.
“We’ll know what happens then, but if it’s down dramatically over what it was last year — and last year was down slightly over the previous year — we’ll have to look at doing something to replace the funds and the food that don’t come in from that food drive,” he said.
*Donations to the Community Food Sharing Association can be made online at www.cfsa.nf.net.
*Details on the NL Oil & Gas Week Food Drive can be found online at www.nloilandgasweek.ca.
*Donations of food for the Salvation Army food bank in Marystown can be dropped off Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
BY THE NUMBERS
In March 2015, 25,040 people in Newfoundland and Labrador accessed food banks.
37.4 per cent of them were children
4 per cent of them were seniors
8.9 per cent received income from work (3.9 per cent in rural N.L.)
12.3 per cent received employment insurance (4.7 per cent in rural N.L.)
71.3 per cent of them availed of social assistance (76.6 per cent in rural N.L.)
0.6 per cent received disability-related income support (4.3 per cent in rural N.L.)
6.1 per cent received pensions (6.6 per cent in rural N.L.)
24.4 per cent came from two-parent families (18.1 per cent in rural N.L.)
35 per cent came from single-parent families (22.2 per cent in rural N.L.)
11.2 per cent were in relationships with no children (20 per cent in rural N.L.)
29.4 per cent were single people (39.7 per cent in rural N.L.)
20.7 per cent rented their homes (50.8 per cent in rural N.L.)
67.1 per cent lived in social housing (29.7 per cent in rural N.L.)
11.7 per cent owned homes (16.1 per cent in rural N.L.)
0.5 per cent were homeless (3.5 per cent in rural N.L.)
Source: Food Banks Canada