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'More kids are going hungry': Vancouver Island charities see surge in demand


A charity feeding kids in B.C. is seeing an unprecedented surge in demand, generating a waitlist for the first time to serve 17 communities.

“It means that more kids are going hungry,” says Backpack Buddies executive director Emily-Anne King. “Over half of our waitlist that we’re seeing is located here on Vancouver Island.”

Backpack Buddies says the cost of living is one part of the wave of requests, along with fewer services on the island.

“The northern part of Vancouver Island seems to see the most demand,” says King.

Port Hardy is one of the communities welcoming support. The mayor says the poverty level on the North Island is “very, very severe.”

Pat Corbett-Labatt says one of the challenges is a lack of agricultural land.

“We are working with the ministry of agriculture and food production to do an assessment of our land up here and see what we can do to make things different,” she says.

Backpack Buddies says one-in-five kids in British Columbia live in food insecurity – and the rate rises to one in two in some pockets of Vancouver Island.

It’s opened a new, larger warehouse in Central Saanich to help meet the demand.

“Honestly, we need donations. We need our community to really rally together and help us rise up to this demand. You know inflation is not only hitting our families -- it’s hitting our program,” says King. “Our monthly food bill is up almost $20,000 compared to this time last year. Apples are 60 per cent more per unit.”


Backpack Buddies isn’t the only organization speaking out about surges in customers. Food banks and other groups, such as CFAX Santa’s Anonymous, have also spoken out in recent months.

A University of Victoria policy expert says while their work is providing a critical service right now, it’s not a sustainable long-term solution.

“The answer that a lot of us are coming back to is we just need a more cohesive, better income support system in Canada and at the provincial level to address the gap that currently exists between people’s income and the affordability of food,” says UVic public health and social policy assistant professor Matthew Little.

He suggests tying assistance rates to inflation, which B.C.’s minister tasked with poverty reduction says is an idea that’s on the table – along with more.

“We are writing a new version of our poverty reduction strategy,” says Social Development and Poverty Reduction Minister Sheila Malcolmson.

As part of the work, she says the provincial government has heard from more than 10,000 people in B.C. – 70 per cent of whom have lived experience with poverty.

“We’re getting really good advice. Indexing the rate is one of the ideas that we’ve heard and it will be reflected amongst a lot of really good ideas in a report that will come out next month,” says Malcolmson.

New data from Statistics Canada shows the country’s annual inflation rate slowed to 3.1 per cent in October, down from nearly 4 per cent in September. People are still paying 5.4 per cent more for groceries.

“Ultimately what is going to bring better prices for Canadians is having more competition,” says federal Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne.

B.C. minister Malcolmson says since the NDP formed government in 2017 -- it’s increased social assistance rates five times, doubled the seniors supplement, and made prescription contraception free.

“In all kinds of sectors we’ve been working to put more money in people’s pockets and as global inflation outstrips in some cases that increased income that people have, it means we continue for more ways to get direct help to the people in need,” says Malcolmson. “The impact of global inflation on the cost of food in particular has been a body-blow.” Top Stories

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