You may think that gloomy warnings about food prices growing even steeper in 2016 would mean tough times for the Whitehorse Food Bank. But clients are actually enjoying a windfall of food, thanks to donations by local businesses.
Over the last few months, Whitehorse’s Superstore and Independent grocery stores, as well as G-P Distributing, have been freezing fresh food as it nears its best before date.
The meat, bread and baked goods that are unlikely to sell are donated to the food bank and then given to those in need.
Instead of having to increase its budget, the amount the non-profit spends buying food has actually gone down.
“Our actual order cost has gone down a couple of hundred dollars a week because these people are wonderful and make my life easier and make the clients’ lives better,” said the food bank’s executive director Kyla Merkel.
“Now they get a tray of cookies, and a loaf of bread, and a thing of buns, and a steak when they walk out the door as opposed to a frozen loaf of bread and a can of ham.”
Every day volunteers collect boxes of miscellaneous food from the grocery stores. That includes baked goods and meat like steak and chicken.
As things stand, all food bank clients receive some sort of meat in their hampers.
Every Tuesday, 200 loaves of bread get dropped off by G-P. That’s about $300 worth of bread, Merkel said.
“They’re giving us the bread that they couldn’t sell and that they want to get used before it goes bad.”
Along with its familiar non-perishable food drives, the Whitehorse Food Bank fills its shelves by buying bulk items online through a national service.
Merkel said she always keeps an eye out for sales, but prices were beginning to climb.
Before the local businesses stepped in, the food bank was considering ways to cut back on pricier items.
“Meat itself was $1.60 or more a can and so it was equalling out to an insane amount,” she said.
Food prices in Canada have been climbing for at least the last year. Those who keep an eye on the numbers suggest that 2016 is going to get worse.
A report released last month by University of Guelph researchers says food prices across Canada are expected to increase two to four per cent, above the general rate of inflation.
Meat prices, which rose five per cent in 2015, could rise by up to 4.5 per cent in 2016, the report says.
Vegetables could see a bump of between two and four per cent.
“The biggest factor could be the Canadian dollar,” the report’s lead author, Sylvain Charlebois, said in a statement.
“For every cent the dollar drops, foods that are imported likely increase one per cent or more. For fruits and vegetables, unlike with meats, it’s more challenging to find substitutes in Canada, so shoppers will have to cope with higher prices.”
The Canadian dollar has been hovering around 70 U.S. cents for the last week or so.
The all-time low for the loonie is just under 62 cents. That happened in 2002.
Whitehorse Food Bank clients get three days worth of emergency food once a month.
The businesses involved say that stepping in to help was the right thing to do.
“I think it’s important for us, in the position that we’re in, that if we can help that we do,” said Mark Wykes, owner/operator of the Independent.
In 2012 the Yukon legislature passed the Donated Food Act. It says if someone makes a charitable food donation in good intentions, they are not liable if someone gets sick from eating that food.
Tyler Doll, operations manager with G-P, said the company often offers food to non-profits in need.
“I think a lot of people need help within the Yukon, and it’s businesses like ours that should be reaching out and lending a hand where we can.”
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