Chilliwack food bank seeks help coping with demand

The Chilliwack Food Bank is asking for donations to help them keep up with an unprecedented spike in food bank users.

When Chilliwack Food Bank staff conducted their “hunger count” last month, they were shocked.

They’re seeing a spike in users unlike any they’ve seen before.

In March alone, they served 565 children under the age of 11, and 261 teens. On top of that, they served 4,673 adults. Combined, that’s 5,499 people served last month. The retail value of the amount of food served or distributed was upwards of $28,000.

Foot traffic is up more than 1,000 people from just one month prior, when 4,433 people were served in February.

But even more surprising, March and February numbers for last year were 3,771 and 3,240, respectively.

Chilliwack Food Bank manager Don Armstrong described the increase as “mind-boggling.”

The numbers represent the people who come in for food, whether it’s a few groceries to bring back to their family for the day, a meal at the soup kitchen, or a banana-box hamper of groceries which are given to registered patrons on a monthly basis.

In regards to the hampers specifically, the food bank is now in it’s fifth month of record-breaking numbers.

While 573 hampers were handed out in March 2015, 673 were distributed in March 2016. Similar year-over-year increases have been recorded each month since November.

The trend over these past few months is certainly an unusual and unprecedented one. Average increases in years prior were far less substantial.

“The concern is that the numbers are spiking, and it’s an ongoing trend,” said Tim Bohr, Community Ministries Director for Salvation Army Chilliwack.

“We don’t see it going away any time soon, and it’s impacting our inventory and our capacity to feed people.”

Why the increase in food bank users?

Armstrong and Bohr aren’t entirely sure. But they do know that they’re seeing a lot of new faces. Many are minimum-wage workers who and using the food bank to make ends meet, some new faces are homeless or high-risk individuals who have come from other municipalities.

One of their largest identifiable user demographics is seniors, who may not be able to pay for the rising cost of both housing and food while living on a fixed-income.

Essentially, the need for donations is rising.

With the growing demand as it is now, Armstrong estimates that they currently have about one month’s supply of food remaining.

“Then we’re in trouble,” he said.

Fortunately, the city-wide food drive is coming up on May 4. Service clubs, churches, sports teams, business groups and schools will go door-to-door collecting non-perishable food items.

“The idea is to canvas the entire city in one evening,” Bohr explained.

In addition to most needed food items (below), the food bank is also looking for toiletries. Shampoo and conditioner, toothbrushes and toothpaste, deodorant and feminine hygiene products are all needed.

For those who won’t be home on May 4, the Chilliwack Fire Department will also have a drive-thru drop-off bay open for donations from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Anyone group interested in volunteering for the city-wide food drive can email Don at careandshareda@shaw.ca.

Those who wish to drop-off donations at any time can do so at 45746 Yale Road. Keep in mind, for every $1 donated, the food bank can purchase $3 worth of food.

Food bank most needed items:

  • Peanut butter
  • Canned soups and stews
  • Canned fruits and vegetables
  • Dried pasta and tomato sauce
  • Lentils and beans
  • Powdered, canned or tetra packed milk
  • Baby formula and baby food
  • Canned fish and meat
  • Rice
  • Fruit and vegetable juices
  • Oatmeal and flour