Saskatoon’s meals financial institution braces for surge amid earnings help woes and rising inflation

The Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre is bracing for tough times. 

The non-profit fears that issues including changes to the Saskatchewan Income Support program, a spiking inflation rate and slowing supply chains will result in more people going hungry. 

“[It’s] almost that perfect storm which will plunge people into further vulnerability,” Laurie O’Connor, the food bank’s executive director, said in an interview on Saskatoon Morning Monday.

The HungerCount 2021 report from Food Banks Canada showed a slight overall decrease in people seeking out food banks — mostly due to the federal government’s pandemic assistance — but O’Connor said that trend will not last.

She said it’s expected there will be an increase in people using food banks across the country in the months ahead, including in Saskatoon.

“Any economic shock will, of course, reverberate through folks who are struggling,” she said, noting people on fixed incomes have already started feeling the pinch. 

O’Connor said that in Saskatoon they’ve noticed people who work more than one job, those receiving disability or pension payments, students and seniors using the food bank’s services the most lately.

“They’re people who either built this province or are working really hard to be the next leader, and what we don’t want is for them to be struggling with food security,” she said.

According to Food Banks Canada, children made up a significant number — nearly 40 per cent — of those accessing food banks in Saskatchewan so far this year. 

‘A better safety net’ post-pandemic

O’Connor said the experience of using the food bank has changed throughout the pandemic, especially when it comes to making connections.

Before, she said, there was a waiting area where about 30 people could stand in line. Now, due to COVID-19 safety protocols, that’s now been cut down to about 10.

It also means the process is being rushed to make sure everyone limits their contact with each other, O’Connor said.

“We’re not having that connection with folks that we really wish we were,” she said. “We’re not learning from folks so much why they might be coming or what other resources they need.”

O’Connor said this makes it more difficult to refer people on to other agencies they might benefit from.

David Armour, CEO of Food Banks Canada, said leaders need to keep that larger picture mind.

“As we come out of the pandemic, as we shift our funding and shift our government attention, we really need to build and modernize a better safety net,” he said.

Food Banks Canada’s latest report calls for the following measures to help reduce poverty and food insecurity:

  • New support for low-income renters.
  • Increase support for low-wage and unemployed workers, primarily through modernizing the employment insurance program.
  • Consider policies that would establish a “minimum income floor” for all workers.
  • Increase supports for low-income single adults.
  • Enhance measures to reduce food insecurity in the North.

Donations ahead of the holidays

O’Connor said the wider community in Saskatoon has shown a lot of support for the food bank during the pandemic, and that gives her hope as the holiday season approaches.

“People really care about their friends and neighbours in our community and in our province, and I think we’ll see that again,” she said. 

O’Connor said that financial donations, which can be made online via the food bank’s website, help the most this time of year. These donations allow the food bank to start filling its warehouse with the essentials ahead of the holidays.

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