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Inflation, people losing their jobs are the reasons behind 'sharp increase' in demand at Vaughan food banks

#FoodForThought: 'Three of them lost their jobs,' says man who started getting food assistance
Feb. 28, 2022
Dina Al-Shibeeb

A tall man couldn’t suppress a cry of disbelief after learning that Peter Wixson, executive director for the Vaughan Food Bank, and his staff are all volunteers with no pay.

“It’s a miracle,” the man, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, told them on the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 11, before exiting the door to head out to the taxi that was waiting for him to pick up his much-needed groceries from the food bank.

The father of two is cash-strapped, with a meagre $1,100 a month coming from the Ontario Disability Support Program.

After living with diabetes for six years, the man has holes in his feet and couldn’t continue as a special constable.

“There's a piece of bone in here,” he said, revealing a tiny bone wrapped in tissue, “I need to go home and look at it. It fell out of my toe. Just today.”

The man knows about six people who started using food banks last year.

“Three of them lost their jobs,” he said, but he doesn’t know the circumstances of the other three.

“Some people are ashamed. I'm a little bit ashamed to come here.”

Due to growing demand, Wixson said that his food bank -- one of the biggest in York Region -- is adding two new big freezers to make a current total of 14.

The biggest problem is that some people have lost their jobs, including those who refused to be vaccinated, Wixson added.

Before the pandemic, York Region was already experiencing a growing demand for food bank services. However, two years after the pandemic, Humanity First’s director Aslam Daud said that the impact on the food bank is “tremendous.”

“We saw a sharp increase in the number of clients,” Daud said. “We saw many families relying on food assistance.”

In 2020, the Vaughan-based Food Bank of York Region said it distributed $8.45 million worth of food, or 3.25 million meals, marking a huge leap from the previous year's $3.57 million worth of food distributed, or 1.4 million meals.

The year 2019 also saw a 58 per cent increase in individuals served from 2018.
For Daud, this translated into a whopping increase of up to 80 per cent in clients in 2020 in comparison to 2019 at his food bank.

“In 2021, the increase was steady and there were some months when we saw double the routine monthly numbers from 2019,” he added.

Wixson said that in 2021 alone there were about 1.5 million meals distributed from his food bank, and about the same amount were provided outside of Vaughan to elsewhere in York Region.

“Well, naturally, like everybody else, it's grown,” Wixson said. “Although we're not complaining, we're not saying we're not getting stuff, we're able to handle this.”

Before COVID-19, Vaughan Food Bank distributed food to nine agencies, but the number has increased to 14 agencies.

“Even these people (agencies) are overstretched right now. We are their main backup in order to keep them going. We don't say anything,” he said.

Luckily for Wixson, his word-of-mouth-marketed food bank is getting supplies from big corporations such as IBM and has deals with the likes of Sobeys and Costco.

“This made a big difference because everybody is crying, ‘They're getting no food,’” Wixson said. “I don't understand that because boy, we're getting lots.”

Indeed, Daud said, he needs more donated food to keep up with demands amid changes in the market itself.

With 2021 witnessing a 30-year record high in inflation, groceries are less affordable at a time when many already complain of soaring home prices.

Karen Hurtado, a recent immigrant from Mexico who is residing in Vaughan, says she is paying $1,350 for a basement and living under a “tight budget” with her husband.

She is still working online as a teacher for a Mexican school, however. The conversion rates from pesos to dollars are definitely not to her advantage.