January was the busiest month on record for the Whitehorse food bank.
Every distribution day, the facility saw up to 10 new clients.
“And the alarming thing is that 68 per cent of them were families with children,” said Food Bank Society of Whitehorse executive director Stephen Dunbar-Edge.
“This shows that more and more families are having difficulty making ends meet.”
The food bank is having the same trouble.
It went overbudget in February trying to make up for the January rush.
With more and more clients, “it’s putting a real strain on our food supplies,” said Dunbar-Edge.
The main problem is that the food bank has no core funding. It’s completely reliant on individual and corporate sponsors for its survival.
“For more than a year we have been lobbying the Yukon government for core funding,” said Dunbar-Edge.
But in 2010, and again in 2011, the government contributed nothing.
This year, there’s still no core funding from the Yukon government.
But it did sign on as a corporate sponsor, giving the food bank $5,000.
Last week, two Canadian economists urged the federal government to start charging GST on groceries, arguing it would help boost government coffers.
At the end of the year, they argued, the government might be able to increase the low-income tax credit using the money saved.
“These economists are obviously well paid,” said Dunbar-Edge. “And they obviously lack an understanding of what it’s like living paycheque to paycheque.”
A tax rebate at the end of the year is not going to help pay the bills and put food on the table today, he said.
Not all the people using the Whitehorse food bank are on social assistance.
In fact, only 57 per cent of the clients are on social assistance, said Dunbar-Edge. “The other 43 per cent are the disabled, seniors and the working poor.
“That’s a huge number,” he said.
When the food bank first opened in 2009, it expected to serve about 150 clients a month, representing roughly 450 people.
Today, it’s serving more than triple that, with 480 clients representing about 1,100 people.
“We were not expecting this type of demand,” said Dunbar-Edge.
Local food stores have been working with the food bank to get food off shelves and into bellies before the expiry date. And other food banks have been sending some pallets of supplies north.
The City of Whitehorse also runs a food drive and donates money from its Food for Fines program.
But the food bank is kept alive by individual and corporate donations, which totaled $210,000, last year.
However, including food donations and purchases, as well as operation and maintenance costs, the food bank needs roughly $750,000 annually to operate.
“Whitehorse is making it work,” said Dunbar-Edge.
“But it is not sustainable.”
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