Getting personal – the rising cost of food and the Food Bank of Waterloo Region

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Today, we have a guest blog from Wendi Campbell, the executive director of the Food Bank of Waterloo Region.

The Food Bank is a major partner of the House of Friendship.  They support the food needs of many of our programs, most significantly of the Emergency Food Hamper Program, but also the Hostel, our community and residential programs.  They are the public face of hunger in our community (that donation bin in your local grocery store is likely theirs) working hard to collect, store and then share a tremendous bounty with our neighbours in need.  I don’t think we can sing their praises enough!  Certainly, our work would be much harder without them.

To learn more about them you can visit their website here or follow their twitter feed @FoodBankWatReg here.  They also have a facebook page here if you want to keep up to date on what is happening there.

This blog post is part of series looking at the rising cost of food.  Melissa has already blogged about the impact is has had on the food hamper program by looking at the rising cost of potatoes.  Tony Bender and John Neufeld have shared some of their thoughts on what higher food prices mean for the House of Friendship   In our next, we will get some perspective from the local farm community.

Today, Wendi reminds us of the challenges faced by individuals each day and Hunger Awareness Day, (more info at this link) which is May 31st. Stay tuned to this blog and the Food Banks website and facebook page for more details on what will be happening in this region.

But, without further adieu, here is what Wendi has to say about the rising cost of food and our neighbours in the region…

Without warning a few weeks ago, my meticulously planned grocery budget took a bit of a jump.  For years I have prided myself in keeping to a budget, planning fairly well for our weekly requirements and with a detailed list in hand, I can get out of the grocery store usually under budget with a few extra dollars just in case I forgot something, want to pick up a treat or need any personal items at the drug store (which is part of our weekly grocery budget).

Much to my dismay I went over last week – not by a lot – but over nonetheless.  This usually only happens at Christmas or special occasions.  I started to analyze my bill and discovered it was a combination of things that were causing this to happen:

  1. My tweens are growing like weeds and snacking much more than they ever have before and the supply of crackers, cheese, fresh fruit and veggies disappears much quicker than it used to.
  2. Rising food prices –A couple of things have jumped out at me.  We like Premium Plus crackers which in January were $2.99 a box and are now $3.39.  What else has jumped 20+ cents per item and on a grocery bill of $150.00 what kind of impact does that have.

The good news is I have the ability to adapt.  I find myself getting back to basics.  I am baking more to keep a fresh supply of healthy snacks on hand.  I have been comparing prices and shifting some basics to store brand items at a significant cost savings. We are stretching our leftovers and using up odds and ends in the freezer weekly.

I am fortunate.  I have the skills to plan smarter, use leftovers, remember great meals as a kid when grilled cheese and soup was a fabulous dinner.  I could spend a little more on groceries but our other expenses are inflating just as quickly as food so I want to maintain a good balance.

In chatting with many of our agencies & programs over the last few weeks it is apparent that for many that we serve, the adjustment to higher food prices is not that easy.  Compared to high and middle income households, families assisted by food banks spend a larger proportion of their income on the basics food, shelter, gas, energy leaving less discretionary funds in the case of emergencies or unexpected expenses.  People living on low incomes are disproportionately affected by changes in the price of food.

For many families in our community the effects of the recession are still lingering.  Many are getting back to work, income levels are stabilizing but the impact of rising prices is putting them behind yet again.

For many that we serve, being able to pull together enough food staples and pantry items to bake is a challenge.  Having adequate kitchen facilities to cook healthy meals is not always the norm in many households in our community. Funds to purchase in bulk or to stock up on items when they are on sale may not be an option for those on a fixed weekly income. For many years children have not had the advantages of home economics in school to teach them basic homemaking skills like cooking and baking that they may not have learned from their caregivers.  For many that we serve, the challenges that they have faced over the last few years have left them mentally unable to cope with the additional challenge of rising inflation.

May 31st is National Hunger Awareness Day.  In Waterloo Region we will be celebrating the support that our community has provided to ensure that food banks and programs have adequate supplies to meet the needs of families and individuals who are struggling.  But we also take a moment to reflect on why they are struggling and the vast array of challenges that are faced in households throughout the community.  We celebrate the successes of families who have got back on their feet and no longer require the assistance of a food program.  We also welcome those who have not been that fortunate and do what we can to ensure their health and well being during these challenging times.  Our community has stepped up to Nourish Hope in Waterloo Region. – Thank You!

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