Pricey produce impacts social agencies

By Tanya Cronin
February 2, 2016 - 4:36pm Updated: February 2, 2016 - 5:43pm

KAMLOOPS — It's what fuels us and keeps us healthy. But soaring fruits and vegetable costs, are jeopardizing food security for the city's most vulnerable.

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"When you're on a fixed income, any small increase is felt in a big way. So when the price of produce goes up, it does change the buying habits for our clients," says Bernadette Siracky, Executive Director, Kamloops Food Bank.

A low Canadian dollar and poor weather conditions in crop-growing areas of the U.S. has lead to a spike in produce prices. For many, $12 cauliflower might be an inconvenience, but for the Kamloops Food Bank, the high costs mean double the trouble. A growing number of clients, and fewer donations to give out.

"We're noticing a decrease all across the board actually in the perishable department for us, produce, bread, dairy, we're noticing a decrease in all of those areas in January," says Siracky.

The Kamloops Food Bank serves nearly 7,000 individuals every year, and provides food to 42 agencies that make meals in the community. At Christmas time alone, there was a 25% increase in people receiving food hampers.  

"This seems to be one of the lowest recovery months that we've seen in over a year," says Wes Graham, Operations Manager, Kamloops Food Bank.

The rise in grocery prices is heavily impacting the organization's Food Share program,  that sees close-dated perishable food collected from local grocery stores, and then distributed. Many of those stores seem to be tightening up their orders.

"It's been pretty close to half of what we're picking up. Where we recover maybe 500 pounds of product that's unsellable at the store, might be down to 250 to 300 pounds now," says Graham.

Shleters that provide meals to the homeless and those who need a little extra, are also struggling. 

"With making more meals, and with costs going up continually, it definitely is having an impact on what we can provide going foward," says Stan Dueck, Executive Director, New Life Community Kamloops.

Upwards of 100 people everyday access New Life Community Kamloops for a hot meal. But the recent surge in food costs, is making it more difficult to put that healthy option on the table.  

"In January alone our food costs, this is what we buy from the wholesaler, doesn't include bread, dairy, cleaning supplies, just food, was $9,096 that's just for January. That's close to 25 to $3,000 a week that we pay," says Dueck.

Shelters and food banks fear if the price of fruits and vegetables continues to skyrocket, it could spur an even greater demand for their services and reach crisis levels, with people changing the way they buy, and in the end, changing the way they give.

"We do see less donations come in the door both financially and with food when times like this happen. We depend on our community, kamloops always comes through for us," says Siracky.

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