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Squamish Food Bank users increase, donations dwindling

The sky opens up in Squamish when it desires, but every second Wednesday on Third Avenue, they pray it doesn't.

The sky opens up in Squamish when it desires, but every second Wednesday on Third Avenue, they pray it doesn't.

They, who line outside the Squamish Food Bank, drenched in water, shivering, waiting for the moment they will step in the warm staleness of the Alano Club, pick up their food hampers and leave.

One recent Wednesday, rain poured like a curse and the line grew long enough to snake around the street. One among the hundreds of food bank users, Gena stood in the middle of the line, waiting for her turn to get the food hamper she so desperately needs. The rain spattered her jacket steadily. To protect herself, she pulled her hoodie ever tighter.

Besides the rain, however, the hoodie kept something else at bay.


"I never tell my daughter where I get the groceries from," Gena said. "There is, you know, a shame in it."

After some reluctance, she took up the heart-sinking narrative of her life, a story whose arc, the food bank president said later, is never so far removed from the stories that lay in the heart of those who stood drenched with her.

In her case, it was a decent job swept away by disability, followed by meagre pension, of which more than 40 per cent goes to rent. She said she had no other choice but to use the food bank, which she has used for the past two years.

In the past few years, donations to the Squamish food bank have shriveled, but users like Gena have increased, stretching the line outside the food bank. Susan Newman, the food bank's president said the loss of good-wage jobs after the mill's closure, the recession, and the high rent induced by the Olympics has swelled the ranks of those who access the food bank.

This year, the Squamish food bank had 400 users. Last year only 340 people used the food bank. Out of those who use the food bank, 40 per cent are the working poor, over 30 per cent are children, and at least 20 per cent are single parents.

"Some of our clients are unemployed; some are on disability, and now we are seeing a lot of retired people. But mostly it's people who are the working poor. They just don't have enough to make ends meet," Newman said.

Since the food bank doesn't have a space of its own where it can store food, it uses the Alano Club twice a week. But that means restricting donations only to cash, which, as the big employers leave town, is dwindling.

The tally for this year's donations will be done later in the year, but Newman said in the five years since she has been president the cash donations have either stagnated or dwindled.

And with users increasing, Newman says she fears the food bank might have to cut services considerably. It's not an idle fear. Already, the food bank has reduced contents of the food hampers it gives out to individuals: half-a-litre of milk instead of a full litre, four eggs instead of six.

"There is no other downsizing that I can think of now other than reducing the service to once a month," she said.

Nearly 900,000 people came to access food banks across Canada in March 2010, according to HungerCount 2010, the most comprehensive report on the subject prepared by Food Banks Canada. This is a nine per cent increase over 2009 and is also the highest level of food bank use on record.

The survey found that food bank use has increased by five per cent in British Columbia, although the need for more donations is dire in rural communities of the province.