Food bank shelves becoming bare as demand spikes and donations fall

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West Nipissing Food Bank president, Don Clendenning, talks about imminent shortages. The food bank is receiving fewer donations, at the same time demand has almost doubled.

The West Nipissing Food bank is facing an imminent shortfall in their stock as demand has increased almost twofold and donations have decreased substantially over the past few months as a result of galloping inflation. Food bank president Don Clendenning warns that food may run out within 4 months, after Christmas, if current trends continue. He says the current price of foodstuffs is having a serious impact on their ability to maintain current levels of generosity. “The sad part is you don’t like to see the volume of clientele increase, but you can understand it. (…) Everything is getting more expensive; it’s getting more expensive for us too! We don’t get any price breaks.” 

The food bank buys a good portion of its bi-monthly hand-outs from cash donations, but that cash is not stretching as far these days. “There are two of us that do the purchasing, myself and Chantal Leroy. I do the fruits and veggies, bread, eggs, (Chantal buys the canned goods). We’ve gone back to No Frills, simply because the food supply companies were getting extremely expensive, their prices almost doubled over 6 months… We buy every couple of weeks and that order would be $2000-2500, and I can get the same stuff from No Frills for $1000-$1500.”

Clendenning says the food bank saves more money by shopping the flyers of local grocers such as Giant Tiger, No Frills, and Metro for items on sale. Also, when they do receive donations of fruits and veggies past prime, they often have to discard about a third. They have arrangements with local farmers who feed discarded food to their livestock and in return provide meat at lower pricing. The food bank has been very creative in developing those partnerships, but it isn’t enough.

“If we keep going the way we are, we’ll probably make it until Christmas, then we won’t be able to buy what we buy anymore. Donations, the other side of the equation, they’ve gone down drastically. But it’s understandable. Those people when they had money could donate, but now they can’t because they also have to buy food. Our clientele has more than doubled. We used to average 50-65 [people] every second week. Last week we were at 128, and we’ve been up to 130. We open from 9 to noon, and some of them are there at 7:30.”

Clendenning reports that the mood of some people in the receiving line has also altered for the worse. “For the most part they are happy, a couple have anxiety, aggression issues,” he says, noting that some food bank recipients also have substance abuse problems. The president adds that behind those numbers are also many children and family members not counted. He estimates the food bank is likely feeding upwards of 300 people in the community. One recipient is 97-years old.

Despite the difficulties, Clendenning says “I hesitate in putting out an appeal. Mail-in donations have gone down. We used to have food rescue but a corporate decision came down that they would handle their older stuff differently, sell it at reduced prices. That’s corporate, that’s business, so that dried up… [No Frills] has a supersized grocery cart at the checkout and people put stuff in there. About once a month they give us a call – 5-8 boxes full of stuff… everything helps. Metro has a buy-the-bag program; Léo and Rollande Malette pick that up, maybe 25-30 bags a week… I think [what’s in the bag is] worth $10… That’s not bad at all!”

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