The Whitehorse Food Bank is feeding twice as many hungry people than predicted.
“We expected a maximum of 400 to 500 people,” said food bank manager Julie Menard on Tuesday.
“But today we have 900 people and we’re getting new people every day.”
On Thursday, new clients sat at the tables filling out information forms.
“I’ve been in Whitehorse for four days,” said Francisco Quintana in a thick Spanish accent.
The Mexican quickly pulled out his papers.
“I was working in Vancouver,” he said, showing off a resume with a history at Superstore and other food chains in Los Angeles and Calgary.
Then Quintana pulled out a worn, colourful document stating his refugee status.
“I have to wait one year to see if I can stay,” he said.
Quintana had already secured a bedroom in a downtown house, and the food bank’s generous gift of groceries was going to help him through the first few weeks.
“I only use the food bank when the electricity bill is high, or I haven’t sat down and done my budgeting properly,” said Charity Papineau, stuffing cans and bags of rice and beans under her stroller.
The single mom’s two-year-old son sat grinning while she packed, waving hello to the other clients.
“I have my own apartment and work part time,” said the 26-year-old mom.
She’d like to get a full-time job, but affording child care is a major problem.
“Like they say, ‘It’s a full-time job being a mother,’” she said.
“The food bank saves a lot of souls.”
Every month, Menard sees more and more people in their teens picking up bags of groceries.
“And we’re seeing more single moms with really young babies, and pregnant women,” she said.
There are some people who have registered as food bank clients, but have never used the service.
“They say, ‘We’re OK now, but we want to be prepared in case we get in trouble,’” said Menard.
There have also been Yukoners who donated to the food bank one month, and showed up as clients the next.
“Everyone could be one paycheque away from trouble,” she said.
“This is the first time I’ve been here,” said Robert Bosely, filling out his registration form.
“I have no income,” he said.
Bosely, who’s applying for housing at the new sixplex in Teslin, was just in Vancouver for medical reasons.
“I saw (Premier Dennis) Fentie there,” he said.
“He told me there was work out there, you just have to look for it.”
At the front counter, food bank volunteer Judi Johnny was asking return users a host of questions. “Do you need toilet paper, shampoo, Kleenex, dog food, cat food, garbage bags?”
“Can I get more food yet?” said one man.
Johnny looked up his file. He’d have to wait another two weeks until he was eligible, but she offered him a coffee and his pick of food in the free bin.
“I was a line cook in the rural communities, but I got ripped off,” he said, sitting down.
“I’m going to go to college.
“Social assistance is going to pay my tuition; I want to study northern justice and criminology.”
Clients can only get supplies from the food bank once a month. Each time, they’re given enough food for three days and rations are dished out according to the size of a client’s family, and their needs.
The food bank creates special bags for people with diabetes, Hepatitis C, those who need a gluten-free diet, or those who have other health problems.
And it offers its clients fresh produce.
“I’m using money donations to go buy fresh food every week,” said Menard.
“I’m one of the first people at Superstore, and I see all the people who own restaurants there at 7:30 a.m.”
Extra Foods gives the food bank groceries it can’t sell because of damaged packaging or other problems. Menard has been asking the Superstore to do the same, but she’s still waiting for a response.
“We can’t accept expired food though,” she said.
The food bank opened on April 30th in the old Legion building on Alexander Street. The next day, as planned, the Salvation Army and Maryhouse stopped their emergency food programs.
We used to have 150 clients, said Maryhouse worker Christine Herlihy. One client can include a whole family.
Four months later, the food bank is serving nearly 500 clients and their families, feeding more than 900 individuals.
The increase in demand is not unique to Whitehorse.
Over the last six months, food banks across the country have been getting busier.
The Salvation Army in Prince George, BC, has seen its clients increase 35 per cent since March.
“It has to do with the forest industry and cutbacks,” said one of the staff there.
“Whitehorse is the last capital in Canada to get a food bank,” said Menard.
The next step is a community kitchen, which she hopes to get up and running this winter.
Right now, clients can come and sit at the tables. There’s always coffee and snacks, said Menard. “Some people come here to avoid going to the bars.”
“I went through a bad time,” said one young man, who asked to remain anonymous.
“I wasn’t working. Things would start getting better, then I’d get into the alcohol.”
But it’s been four months since his last drink, he said. “I hit rock bottom.”
Coming to the food bank is tough, said the man. “It’s a pride thing.
“If I get back and working and keep the job, I won’t be coming here.”
There is a small crowd of dependent users, said Menard. “But most of our users don’t come every month.”
Even so, the food bank needs more grub.
“We never have enough food,” said Menard.
“Everything that came in today; we almost gave it all away today.”
Whitehorse is so generous, she said. “We get donations every day.” But the need is huge.
“We really need dog and cat food,” said Johnny. Peanut butter, jam, juice, and canned meat and fish are also in high demand.
“We had one woman come in, ask what we needed, and then show up with peanut butter,” said Menard.
“Imagine if everyone who goes shopping for groceries left something in the food bank bins (at Extra Foods and the Superstore)—then we’d be fine,” she said.
Contact Genesee Keevil at