Putting food on the table

More people are accessing food banks across the province

Illustration by Talia Steele

Food banks throughout Winnipeg are seeing an increase in clients in need of food as the holiday season approaches.

At Harvest Manitoba, roughly 40 per cent of clients have jobs, and the organization has seen more new Canadians, disabled people and people younger than 20 accessing their resources in the past months.

Harvest Manitoba supplies food to more than 380 food banks across the province and feeds more than 50,000 people each month. Including soup kitchens and school food programs, they feed 108,000 Manitobans every month.

“December is historically a busy time for food banks. With the extra stress of the holiday season, combined with the Winnipeg weather, food-bank numbers increase,” John Heim, the Harvest Manitoba communications director, says in an email statement.

“There just isn’t any money left at the end of the month these days.”

However, there’s also an increase in the number of volunteers on site who help make hampers and raise food and money donations.

The Christmas Cheer Board expects to deliver 19,000 food hampers this year to meet record demand for food banks.

Phones at the community-led organization have been ringing non-stop since the lines opened on Nov. 3, executive director Shawna Bell says.

Canada’s inflation rate jumped to four per cent in August, increasing costs for essentials like food, housing and transportation.

“It’s not just grocery prices,” Bell says. “The price of everything has gone up, and people are having to make some very difficult decisions.”

The Christmas Cheer Board gave out 18,313 hampers last year. It was the highest number of hampers provided in the food bank’s 104-year history.

They decided to open their phone lines early because of the financial pressures Manitobans are experiencing.

Bell hopes the Christmas Cheer Board can alleviate some stress for Manitobans during the holiday season.

“When you hear things about some parents having to make a choice about whether they’re going to put food on the table or pay a bill, that’s a difficult decision people are having to make,” she says. “We help people breathe easier over the holidays.”

Across the country, food-bank use has increased by 32 per cent in the last year.

Since its creation in 2020, Mutual Aid Society (MAS) Winnipeg has worked to provide people with necessities like food and clothing. Currently, they are serving close to 13,000 clients in Winnipeg but have the capacity to serve up to 15,000.

The majority of people coming to MAS are Indigenous, female-presenting and have children, organizer Lara Rae says.

“People are really, really struggling, and there (are) more and more struggling people on a daily basis. The resilience and the strength of these (people) is extraordinary,” she says.

“At the same time, they shouldn’t have to carry as much as they do. We all have a responsibility to rectify that.”

MAS helps put together hampers of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and other holiday food items around Christmas.

Everyone deserves a break during the holiday season, and Rae hopes the idea of helping those in need is important to other Manitobans.

Published in Volume 78, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 23, 2023)

Related Reads