As Yellowknife's cost of living rises, demand at food banks is growing – even as donations drop and charities receive less product for the same prices.
Jason Brinson, the executive director of Yellowknife's Salvation Army, says his organization spent around $4,000 on food support programming in 2018. This past year, that rose to $160,000.
Brinson said that was a number he had been forced to triple-check. "Is this number right? I was shocked at it as well,'' he told Cabin Radio.
"It has skyrocketed. We don't want to have to reduce the size of food hampers, because we know the need is there. But given the costs, it's getting tough to maintain our current output.''
Brinson says donations of both food and cash have decreased over the same time period, which he chalks up to fewer families being able to afford to give. Supports that came on-stream during the pandemic, meanwhile, have dried up.
"Another chunk of our budget usually comes from purchases at our thrift store,'' said Brinson, "but sales have dropped there as well.''
[Read more: “Food charities expect to add more programs in 2023 amid high demand”]
Last year, the Salvation Army recorded 934 adults and children benefiting from its Yellowknife food programs between January and the end of March. This year, by mid-March, that figure had grown to 1,254 adults and children.
Brinson says his organization increasingly relies on corporate donors, who give pallets of dry goods such as macaroni, rice and canned soup.
"We're really appreciative of the vendors that help us out, as well as every donor, big and small,'' said Brinson. "For the average person, you don't have to go out and buy $50 worth of food. Even two or three items contributes a significant amount to our food bank and allows us to keep doing what we're doing.''
Joanne Teed, vice president of YK Food Bank, said price increases are beginning to compromise the quality of food they're able to offer.
"The worst prices are meats, fruits and vegetables,'' she said. "We don't buy meat any more, we just can't afford it. When I look at prices from this time last year to this year, everything's gone up. It's crazy.
"But we still try to provide fresh vegetables and fruit each day, whether it's fresh or frozen.''
The YK Food Bank has also seen more people in need over the past few months.
"Comparing the first three months of this year to last year, we've seen a 33% increase in clients,'' said Teed, who added she's also seeing a level of desperation that seems new.
"They're saying this is their only source of food, which... I was shocked,'' she said.
"We only give out food every two weeks, and not enough for them to live on that whole time. I've heard that from about five people recently.
"Some of them say their rent has gone up, and now they're having to make a decision to pay rent or buy food. It's heartbreaking, hearing some of these stories.''
Like Brinson, Teed says the volume of personal donations has fallen since the beginning of the pandemic. But she's still grateful for everything they do receive.
"Thank goodness for the people of Yellowknife,'' she said. "We depend so much on their donations. Everyone in the food bank is a volunteer. So all the money that's donated goes to food and rent.''
The strain on food banks this past year is part of a national trend.
Last October, food bank usage in Canada reportedly reach reached an all-time high. A report by Food Banks Canada found that food bank reliance had increased by 20 per cent since 2019, while there were changes in the demographics – like students and full-time workers – that use the services.
Kirstin Beardsley, the chief executive of Food Banks Canada, called the numbers "devastating'' in an interview with Global News.
"Behind each one of these numbers is a person who is struggling too much to get by,'' she said.