Food Bank use continuing to rise 

Underemployment primary reason so many using service

An early start to winter hasn't alleviated any pressure on the Whistler Food Bank, which has already broken records in terms of user numbers.

According to coordinator Sara Jennings, on Dec. 6 the food bank provided food for 159 people. Already in 2010 the food bank has served over 2,000 people, up from 1,200 in 2009.

The food bank has also fed children 300 times over the course of the year, based on feedback of food bank users. That's not to say that 300 children have been fed, as the food bank has fed some of those children multiple times.

The main problem for many food bank users, says Jennings, is underemployment. The majority of food bank users are employed, but are not working enough hours to make ends meet.

"We get everybody - families, pensioners, older people, younger people - but given that this is a service industry town that is largely made up of more transient and definitely younger people, that's what we get here," said Jennings, adding that Whistler's seasonal workforce is extremely vulnerable.

"They're the first ones cut, they're the first ones to lose hours and shifts, rather than longer-term or older employees," said Jennings.

So far the food bank is handling the extra volume, as fundraising and food donations have been stepped up by the community in response to earlier concerns about food bank usage. However, Jennings estimates that they are purchasing as much as 75 per cent of food and other items provided to food bank users, with the rest coming from food hamper donations at local grocery stores.

In addition to providing drop-in food bank service for the first and third Monday of every month, the Whistler Food Bank also provides emergency service when required. Jennings says those calls are up as well.

The Whistler Community Services Society, which runs the food bank, is looking into the root causes of the increase in local demand, although increased usage has been reported across B.C. and Canada as a result of high unemployment, an increased number of seniors living on budgets and other factors.

In the meantime they want to clear up a misconception that the majority of food bank users are gaming the system or are unwilling to work.

Of the 159 customers on Monday, 61 were accessing the food bank for the first time. Of the remaining users, less than 10 people had used the food bank more than five times within the last 12 months.

"They're working part time, many are looking for second jobs or waiting for work to pick up so they can work full time," said Jennings.

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