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COSTLY LIVING: Rising cost of groceries becoming ‘so crazy expensive’

But with the rising costs, the Surrey Food Bank is seeing a slight downturn in donations
According to the Surrey Food Bank’s website, it currently distributes food to approximately 1,200 families. Most clients come in on a bi-weekly basis, while the “tiny bundles” clients – those who are pregnant or have a child under a year old – come in weekly for groceries. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

Fourth in our COSTLY LIVING series of stories about the rising cost of living and how people are coping.

CLICK HERE to read Part 1 (“Housing in Surrey is expensive, even for BC Lions players”)

CLICK HERE to read Part 2 (“Housing headaches for residents forced out of Surrey manufactured home parks”)

CLICK HERE to read Part 3 (“Fuel prices ‘debilitating’”)

In April, the Surrey Food Bank took in 43,000 lbs. of food.

But 85,000 lbs. went out to clients.

The rising costs of groceries are having a huge impact on donations, says Elizabeth Sundvall, former client services co-ordinator for the Surrey Food Bank. After three years, her last day was on Wednesday (May 25) before moving on to a new job.

“As people are needing more food, it’s harder and harder for people to donate because they don’t have the ability to do so,” noted Sundvall during distribution at the Surrey Food Bank’s 23,000-sq.ft. warehouse in Newton.

READ ALSO: Surrey Food Bank opens huge new ‘forever home’ in Newton, July 6, 2020

READ ALSO: ‘This is my community’: Surrey Food Bank welcomes new executive director, May 4, 2022

It was the food bank’s new executive director who told the Now-Leader that nearly double the amount of food went out than came in April.

“Certainly within our community, we’re seeing a downturn in donations and an increase in our clients,” said Nancy Pagani.

“We had 164 clients come through (one day). You average that throughout the month and it doesn’t last very long. It may last two weeks, a week. It depends on the numbers coming in.”

The 12th edition of Canada’s Food Price Report, released in December 2021, predicted that a family of four would pay about $966 extra for groceries in 2022, for a total of up to $14,767. The report also forecasted food prices would increase between five and seven per cent in 2022.

“There will likely be more demand for and reliance on food programs or food banks if incomes do not rise to meet food expenditures and other basic needs,” notes the report. “At the same time, organizations that provide aid to the food-insecure may have difficulty meeting increased demand and rising food expenditures while operating with stagnant funding and budgets.”

READ ALSO: Canadian families will pay an extra $966 for groceries in 2022, report says, Dec. 9, 2021

Sundvall said the Surrey Food Bank is expecting even more growth in its client base.

“Especially in the last year, with everything that’s been going on with the Ukraine situation, the price of food, price of gas, everything going up right now and the uncertainty of what’s going to happen. We have definitely seen an increase and need here.”

But she’s hoping that as the need grows, the Surrey Food Bank will also be able to grow and help support people “that much more.”

According to the Surrey Food Bank’s website, it currently distributes food to approximately 1,200 families.

One of those clients is a 28-year-old mother-of-two, Nora, who is using an alias for privacy reasons. Nora and her family, which consists of her husband, her six-year-old son and her 11-month-old daughter, have been using the food bank for nearly a year.

“We started coming just after I had her, just for a little extra help,” she said, explaining that the family had moved for a job and then she went on maternity leave.

“My husband was in between jobs at the time,” she said, adding it would be something to help them out a little bit until they got back on their feet and she returned to work.

It’s not the first time Nora’s family has used a food bank. They used one when they lived in Saskatchewan after she had her son.

Asked if she thinks using a food bank is more common than most people think, Nora said everybody needs help nowadays as everything is “so crazy expensive.”

“It’s there for people who need it. Even if you’re really well off, sometimes you do need that extra little hand.”

The Surrey Food Bank helps low-income residents who live north of 40 Avenue in Surrey and in North Delta, and while the food bank has an income threshold to determine clients, Sundvall said she hopes one day that can be extended.

“The cost of honey is rising, the cost of eggs, milk, those things that we need, just the basics to survive are getting more and more expensive,” she explained. “I know even myself going and buying that carton of milk, that’s gone up in price. It’s like, what’s happening?”

But at the Surrey Food Bank, staff work to support clients “in every way possible” in order to “be more than just a food bank.”

“I think that’s another thing that a lot of people aren’t aware of. Is the difference between expiry and best before, knowing that it can last after that date and maybe saving a few bucks that way is a great way to be thinking.

“We try and teach that here as well,” she said.

Sundvall added the food bank also invites different community resources, they help with resume writing, finding a job and learning English.

“We want to fight poverty. We want to, hopefully, get out of that.”

Further north in the city, a community cupboard and garden have sprouted up on the front lawn outside a Whalley church.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, City Centre Church started preparing food packages for local shelters, explained Rev. Gabriel Snyman.

“We thought it was like a two-week thing and they were very grateful,” explained Rev. Gabriel Snyman. “That turned into an almost-two-year thing.”

That, he said, “gave birth to the idea of a community garden.” And from there, a community cupboard.

“The thought process was at the end of the season, there’s no more produce. What can we give, what can we do now?”

At the end of last summer, an assisted-living group that operates out of the church set up the community cupboard. Community cupboards are generally a small, standalone, anonymous food-bank type structure. People can take what they need and drop off items.

“I mean, we’re not the first to do this. We find – I’m here on a daily basis – as soon as that thing is stocked, I would come here the next day and it’s all gone. And it’s also inspiring to sometimes come there and see somebody just put something in,” explained Snyman.

City Centre Church also offers a “Deacon’s Cupboard” inside the church.

“That would be for people that contact us and say, ‘Listen, we’re falling upon tough times’ and that would be a parcel for a family to kind survive for a month.”

When Snyman spoke with the Now-Leader in early May, he said people were starting to inquire with the church about getting help as the costs of practically everything continued to rise.

“Definitely, this is coming.”

The Surrey Food Bank is located at Unit 1 - 13478 78 Ave., and to find out about donating or getting help, visit City Centre Church is located at 13062 104 Ave. and people can contact the church at 604-581-4833 to drop off donations or directly into the community cupboard.

NEXT WEEK: We talk to experts about inflation and rising interest rates and the impact they have on the cost of living.

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Lauren Collins

About the Author: Lauren Collins

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media's national team, after my journalism career took me across B.C. since I was 19 years old.
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