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Food bank usage up dramatically

High housing costs a factor

Regional food bank operators are dealing with numbers never seen before as lineups on food distribution days grow.

The local food banks participated in a national initiative to gather hunger statistics in March and the initiative has indicated more people locally are looking for help to keep their cupboards stocked.

Sara Jennings, Whistler's Food Bank coordinator, said a number of complicating factors are coming together to increase the number of people lining up to use the food bank.

"April was our biggest month on record," she said.

In March, 285 people sought assistance from the Whistler food bank. The number of people assisted in 2010 was 77.

"It is getting more challenging to meet the demand," said Jennings.

The Whistler food bank has a unique advantage over most other food banks because some of the funding for the food bank comes from the Re-Use-It Centre in Function Junction, said Jennings. The Whistler Community Services Society runs the centre and the society also operates the food bank.

The food bank accepts food donations at the four local grocery stores in Whistler.

According to Jennings, there is a misunderstanding in the community that the same group of young, unemployed people mostly uses the food bank. She said the number of unemployed people using the food bank is low and most of the people using the service have more than one job but they don't get enough work to cover all their expenses. She also said an outreach worker speaks with food bank clients to inform them of programs they can access to help them out.

Susan Newman, the coordinator of the food bank in Squamish, said her organization also saw a big jump in numbers.

"I knew in December my numbers were up," she said

In March of this year 350 people used the food bank in Squamish compared to 281 in 2010, said Newman. She noted the number of children served in Squamish was 106. The number of children getting food from the food bank in Squamish was much higher than in Whistler, where the number of children served in March was 15.

Jennings noted the number of children served in Whistler dropped when the Pemberton food bank began operating.

According to Newman, the high cost of housing and a lack of well paying jobs mainly contribute to the increased demand on the food bank in Squamish.

Newman said most of the people who use the food bank in Squamish are renting the houses they live in and most of the customers are single parents. A significant number of the food bank users in Squamish get assistance through a government disability program, she said.

In Squamish, unlike in Whistler, many of the food bank clients are return visitors. Newman said she usually sees two to four new faces at each distribution.

Louise Stacey-Deegan, the food bank coordinator in Pemberton, said the Pemberton food bank has seen increasing numbers since July when she started coordinating.

In March, 424 people were served, including 162 children.

Most of the food is provided by the Pemberton Valley Supermarket but Stacey-Deegan encouraged any residents with a surplus of locally grown vegetables to call her so she can arrange to have the food picked up and then delivered to the food bank on distribution days.

"This time of year it dries up a bit," Stacey-Deegan said of the donations from the community.

The Whistler food bank distributes every Monday from 10 a.m. until noon at 6299 Lorimer Road (Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church) while distribution in Squamish is held on the first and third Wednesday of each month at 37978 Third Avenue from the Alano Club. The Pemberton food bank distributes from the old Sears building at 1366 Aster St. Pemberton every other Monday.