Cost of living sends Haliburton County food bank use soaring

Haliburton 4Cs food bank manger Judy MacDuff organizes donations with a volunteer.

A record-breaking number of people are seeking help from Haliburton food banks as inflation hits 30-year highs. 

In a presentation to Highlands East council July 12, executive director Tina Jackson said the service is providing food to about 184 people per month. 

At the height of the pandemic, they were serving around 170 per month. 

It’s likely a reflection of how inflation is impacting the community, Jackson said. 

“Anyone who visited a grocery store or gas station recently can appreciate that the cost of living is heartbreaking right now,” Jackson said. In Dysart et al, Judy MacDuff of 4Cs said they have seen an average of 130 visits per month since March, up from 65 to 75 per month in the winter. “That’s unusual,” she said. “Normally our client list is down in the summer, not higher.”

 MacDuff points to inflation too. 

“Food prices have gone so high. People have to decide between food and heating their homes.” While inflation sits at 7.7 per cent, a recent Statistics Canada study found food costs have risen by nearly 10 per cent since last year. 

The Minden Community Food Centre has been busier too, said assistant manager Victoria Lawson. The centre has seen a 25 per cent increase in people served from January to June this year, compared to 2021. 

“We don’t question people when they come in, but [food prices] are certainly is a topic of conversation we hear,” Lawson said. 

Jackson said the Central Food Network, which includes the Cardiff Community Food Bank, the Food Hub in Wilberforce, and the Heat Bank, reports the spike comes amidst a long-term trend of rising food insecurity in Highlands East. “We’re really seeing an upward trend that follows year over year increases [in usage],” Jackson told council. 

The Cardiff location sees 81 visits per month, while the Food Hub in Wilberforce serves an estimated 164 people per month. The Food Network also provides frozen meals, prepared by volunteers. Jackson estimates they distributed 2,100 meals so far. 

They delivered 4,208 servings in 2021. 

“We were not prepared for the level of need,” Jackson said. 

She added many Highlands East residents seeking help didn’t have access to kitchens or even consistent running water. 

“Those frozen prepared meals were a critical service for our clients,” she said.

Another area of service that increased was the Heat Bank, which distributed 81 truckloads of firewood in 2021. Usually, they distribute fewer than 65.

 “I think that really is related to the cold weather we saw and the number of people needing help to offset fuel costs,” she said. 

Overall, 742 people received some form of help from the Food Network last year. Thirty-two per cent of people accessing their services were seniors, 26 per cent children and 42 per cent adults. 

Central Food Network board member Nancy Wright-Laking said they’re focusing on funding and awareness initiatives this year. 

The network doesn’t receive ongoing government funding, relying instead on donations to aid the community. 

“We realized a lot of people didn’t know what the Central Food Network was, what we offered to individuals in need,” she said.