Food bank usage across Canada is on the rise, but numbers have actually decreased slightly at the Goldstream Food Bank this year heading into the always important holiday season.
Earlier this week, Food Banks Canada reported that usage is up 1.3 per cent over 2015 and 28 per cent since 2008 Canada-wide, with a 3.4 per cent increase in B.C. compared to this point last year.
The Langford-based Goldstream Food Bank hasn’t followed that trend, with numbers down somewhat over 2015, but president Gayle Ireland doesn’t necessarily believe that’s an indication that residents are climbing out of poverty.
“Once they drop off our files I have no idea where they’ve gone, but I have heard from other agencies that a lot people have moved up island or out to Sooke where houses are a lot cheaper and rents are a lot more reasonable,” Ireland said.
With lower numbers, the food bank has managed to stock their hampers a little bit fuller so far this year, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still a strong need for donations.
“The price of groceries has gone up (regularly) so our purchasing power is being reduced,” Ireland noted. “Even though we’ve had a reduction in numbers, the cost has gone up.”
When it comes down to decision-making with its purchases, it’s not surprising that luxury items such as desserts and snacks get cut first.
“We have meetings and we discuss it. What we try and do is weed out the ‘nice-to-have’ items that are included in the hamper and focus on the ‘need-to-have’ items. We focus on nutrition first and extras second,” Ireland said.
The facility is preparing to shift its focus in December as it officially becomes the Westshore Christmas Hamper Fund Society for the month.
“(It’s) a different mission, different bank account, different board, but we’re all basically the same people, we just switch hats,” Ireland said.
In addition to the regular food and monetary donations – which help ensure that all of the food bank clients get a chance for a turkey dinner at Christmas – the society takes in donations of toys and other Christmas gifts.
While young children are often the recipients of most of those donations, an area of need that shouldn’t be forgotten is Christmas gifts for seniors. Toiletries, mitts and scarves and any other small gifts can make a huge difference at this time of year, especially for seniors that might not have any family around.
Ireland has seen the effect a small donation can have first hand.
“I’ve had people crying in (my) office saying, ‘you know, if it wasn’t for that stocking you gave me, I wouldn’t have had any presents to open,’” she said. “It warms your heart … I think that’s what it’s all about.”
Extra volunteers are helpful during the busy holiday season. Anyone wishing to contact the food bank can reach them at 250-474-4433.
Those in need can call one of the society’s two lines at 250-391-9627 (Christmas) or 250-391-9904.