VICTORIA -- Staff at the Sooke Food Bank say the number of families needing the services they provide has increased by more than 30 per cent since the beginning of the pandemic.

The food bank serves people in need from area surrounding Sooke to as far west as Port Renfrew. Staff say prior to the pandemic they would provide approximately 70 food hampers a week, but now the demand has risen to more than 100 a week.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t want to use the food bank and most are working poor who are making paycheque to paycheque,” said Sooke Food Bank president Kim Metzger. “Then, something like Christmas comes up and the need is greater and that’s what we are here for.”

To meet the increased demand for its services, the Sooke Food Bank is looking for a new home. The food bank has outgrown the space it occupies in the basement of the Sooke Community Hall.

“Now, we’re faced with a pandemic and how far does your food stretch when you think that you’ve got a really good supply, and your demand goes up. It really made us space-deficient,” said Metzger. “A lot of our food is on the other side of the (Sooke River) bridge, so space is of a need.”

Metzger says because the food bank has limited space for storage at the community hall, it keeps most of its supply in storage containers at a local storage lot. She says because all of the goods are not in one place, distribution of hampers to those in need is a challenge.

“We have to be strategic about how we place our food now and where we want to go in the future,” said Metzger. “We are appealing for a space in Sooke where we could keep everything together.”

Metzger says she hopes that the offer of a new location comes soon so the food bank is better able to feed people by moving to a larger space in early 2021.

Meanwhile, at the Goldstream Food Bank in Langford, staff members are restocking the shelves after filling 175 Christmas hampers. The West Shore food bank on Station Avenue has also seen an increase in demand.

“People that are in need are still in need and there may be a few more families that are in need this year,” said Goldstream Food Bank vice president Walter Dubeau. “We are here so it is one less worry that families have worrying about what they are going to eat next.”

Dubeau says donations to the food bank in the weeks leading up to the holiday season have been steady.

“Its not only Christmas when families are in need, they are in need throughout the year,” said Dubeau. “We depend on donations to see us through the year.”

The Goldstream Food Bank expects to distribute more than 500 Christmas hampers to families beginning Dec. 1. Families are receiving their hampers two weeks earlier than in past years because of COVID-19 protocols.

“Due to COVID, we have modified they way we are doing things with the help of Canadian Legion Branch 91 in Langford,” said Dubeau. “They let us use some of their space, so we will be distributing the hampers in the legion’s hall and not in the food bank to maintain COVID-19 protocols.”

Food banks across Vancouver Island say what they need most in the weeks leading up to the holiday season is cash donations. Dubeau says because food banks buy food and goods from suppliers at wholesale prices, they are able to make the dollars go further. Being able to by more with less allows food banks to buy more of what is needed for families during the holiday season and throughout the year.