The St. Joseph’s Food Bank in Mission is facing a higher demand for food than ever before.
The food bank is currently serving almost 1,500 people, including 900 families —more than double the 693 people and 342 families they served in 2019. Food Bank manager Sandra Cascaden has been with St. Joseph’s for four years. She says there has been a recent change in the type of people who use the food bank.
“It’s the low income families and the fixed income families [that are using the food bank],” Cascaden said. “The cost of living has gone up but wages aren’t going up. People are wondering ‘Do I put food on the table or do I pay the rent?”
An October report from Food Banks Canada revealed a 15 per cent increase in food bank usage across the country from 2021 and a 35 per cent increase from 2019, with almost 1.5 million visits to Canadian food banks in March of 2022.
“It’s humbling for somebody to come here. The lineups are two and a half hours long. I don’t check how much you make or how much your rent is. If you’re standing in a lineup for two hours, that means you need food.”
St. Joseph’s Food Bank is the lone food bank in Mission registered as a service provider with Food Banks Canada. However, they also collaborate with other local organizations such as Mission Community Services, My House, Union Gospel Mission, Copper Hall, and Glory House – Recovery House. They also support Chehalis First Nation and Leq’a’Mel First Nation by donating food.
The food bank employs two full-time staff and has 40 consistent volunteers with about 13 daily volunteers. It is receiving enough food donations to meet the high demand for hampers, but their struggle lays in funding. Cascaden says operating costs are upwards of $9,000 per month — a number that includes fuel, garbage, and hydro. However, the organization receives roughly $6,000 per month in donations and is operating at a deficit.
“We don’t really have a problem getting in food. The community is really good with that — the distribution centers and grocery stores are all really supportive with food. It’s money [we need].”
A new building was planned last year to expand storage capabilities, but those plans have been derailed due to the increase in numbers and a lack of government funding.
“The government really stepped up to the plate when COVID was here. There was a lot of money and grants coming out. Now we’re kind of high and dry. We’re depleting any kind of reserves that we have.”
Cascaden says the demand for food will always be there and encourages the community to continue their support of St. Joseph’s with donations. The organization receives daily donations of 30 to 40 totes of perishable, non-perishable and farm foods from chains such as Walmart, Superstore , Save-On-Foods, Fresh Co., and Shoppers Drug Mart. The staff puts together 250 food hampers per week and distributes every second Wednesday and Thursday.
COVID changed St. Joseph’s in several ways. Previously, food bank users were able to come in and browse for items. During COVID, the food bank switched to hampers and added deliveries as an option. Now, they are unlikely to change back.
“Around Christmas time is when everybody wants to give and everybody wants to volunteer,” Cascaden said. “I appreciate that and I like that. I just wish everybody would have that spirit throughout the whole year because it’s not just at Christmas time that we need help. ”
Cascaden says the holiday season is about four times as busy as the rest of the year.
“Anybody that’s curious, just come and volunteer one day — pick any day. Come here and you’ll see the chaos. Look at our place. We’re not nearly big enough, yet.”