its all about giving

Before December disappears into an eggnog-induced haze, Yukonomist has a mission for you: find your chequebook and make a donation to the Whitehorse Food Bank.

Before December disappears into an eggnog-induced haze, Yukonomist has a mission for you: find your chequebook and make a donation to the Whitehorse Food Bank.

According to the food bank, it serves more than 1,100 Yukoners every month. That’s a big number, suggesting about one Yukoner in 30 uses the service.

That includes quite a few children, of course. You’ll have heard about all the studies suggesting a well-fed child is healthier and does better at school.

Headline inflation rates in Whitehorse have been low for the past few years, often hovering around two to three per cent. However, for low-income Yukoners this is not the whole story. That headline figure is an average. The lower prices reported for recreational equipment and services, for example, don’t help a single mother deal with higher rent, higher food costs and rising energy costs. We’ve got an electricity price rise coming up, and heating oil and gasoline were expensive to begin with.

Since 2002, according to a Yukon Bureau of Statistics analysis, prices for shelter have risen twice as much as overall inflation. Energy three times as fast. And food, importantly, also rose above average over the last decade.

Shelter, energy and food take up a large proportion of low-income family income, so the food bank is important.

There are three ways to help: give food, give money or volunteer.

Giving food is of course a staple activity during the holidays. It is a generous thing to do.

The food bank has a few things it needs in particular. Some key examples include canned soups, vegetables, meat and fruit, dry goods like pasta and rice, as well as staple household products such as soap, toothpaste and diapers.

The food bank even has an elite squad of power shoppers. These are people who know the system, where the bargains are, and how to take advantage of all those complex coupon and “buy three, get four” deals. I don’t want to name names, since I don’t want any of the food bank’s “00” agents to be barred from grocery stores like card counters in Vegas. But one, let’s call her “K,” calls to find out what the food bank is short of. K then prowls the grocery marketplace and pounces when needed items can be scooped up cheaply.

However, as an economist I would point out that food banks need something even more than they need food: money.

Money donations help defray the operational costs of the food centre. The food bank is a lean, non-governmental organization with lots of work done by volunteers. But it still has to pay the electricity bill.

Also, giving money allows the food bank to buy at bulk prices and to buy items it needs. Instead of you paying full mark-up at a grocery store for a can of tuna, the food bank can pool your donation with others and buy a case on sale. And instead of waiting for toothpaste donations while it piles up a surplus of canned beans, the food bank can just buy what it needs.

Food banks in other cities report that they can make a dollar go 20 to 30 per cent further than an individual shopping at a grocery store.

So join the Green Apple Club. You’ve seen the folks around town wearing a green apple pin on their lapel. You can do it easily at Give a holiday donation or, even better, a monthly deduction from your credit card. Once again, from an economic efficiency point of view it is much better for the food bank to have a stable and predictable income so it can plan ahead and take advantage of bulk bargains.

Finally, another important thing you can do is volunteer. The food bank needs people to run food drives, pack hampers and raise money.

People sometimes argue that government is too big and inefficient. The food bank is an example of what some economists call “social entrepreneurialism.” The idea behind this is that independent community organizations with strong leadership can be more nimble and effective than government in meeting social needs.

But because the food bank is not a government department, it can’t exist without community support.

So put down that glass of eggnog and write a cheque.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels.