Doni Gauthier has been going to the Moose Jaw & District Food Bank since he moved to the Saskatchewan city seven years ago.
The 59-year-old regularly picks up a food hamper there, helping him put food on his table.
Once he pays rent, phone and other utility bills each month, Gauthier says he has about $200 left to spend on other things, like groceries.
“That doesn’t go very far,” he said.
Every time he stops at the food bank it’s busy, he said, and he’s recently heard from more people that are going there.
His observation is in line with data published in a recent report from Food Banks Canada.
A record number of people — nearly 1.5 million — used food banks in Canada this March, with high inflation and low social assistance rates cited as key factors in the rise, according to the report from the charitable organization, which represents food banks across the country .
The number is up by 15 per cent from the year before and 35 per cent from March 2019, prior to the pandemic.
“I try to remind people [that] behind each one of those numbers are real people who are struggling to make ends meet,” Food Banks Canada CEO Kirstin Beardsley said in an interview with CBC Radio’s Morning Edition on Friday.
“We really need to see government take action to shore up our social safety net.”
Children overrepresented at food banks: report
In Saskatchewan, numbers have climbed even more sharply since 2021.
There were 44,851 visits to food banks in the province in March 2022, according to the Food Banks Canada report — a jump of 37 per cent from March 2021, and up 21 per cent compared with 2019.
The numbers are based on reports from 43 Saskatchewan food banks, according to the new data.
“We’re struggling” with “dire needs right now,” said Michael Kincade, executive director of Food Banks of Saskatchewan.
“It’s not necessarily whether you have a job or that anymore. We’re seeing more and more people who are employed having to come back and use the food banks.”
There are 36 food banks listed as members of his organization, said Kincade, not counting other groups in small communities that offer similar services.
Kincade is especially concerned about the high number of kids using food banks, according to the national report.
Across the country, about one-third of all food bank clients are children, even though they make up only around 20 per cent of general population, the report says.
Of the 44,851 visits in March to Saskatchewan food banks, 17,747 were children.
“We’re seeing an increase [of clients] all across Saskatchewan,” said Kincade.
“It’s the same in rural Saskatchewan as it is in the urban centres. All my food banks are struggling to keep food on the shelves and get donations.”
Rising food costs, low provincial social assistance rates and housing costs are the main reasons people are struggling in the province, he said.
While gasoline prices declined in September compared with August, people in Canada continued to feel the pinch in the supermarkets.
Grocery store prices were up 11.4 per cent in September compared to the year before, Statistics Canada said earlier this month — the fastest pace of growth since August 1981.
Use climbing in Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert
Like other food banks across the province, the Regina Food Bank has also been seeing more clients coming through its doors.
“We distribute over 13,000 pounds of food a day at the Regina Food Bank and serve over 12,000 people a month,” said David Froh, vice-president of the Regina Food Bank, which is running its 39th annual food drive this month.
“That’s quite staggering if you think about it.”
According to Froh, 41 per cent of Regina Food Bank users are children, more than 10 per cent are seniors and 53 per cent are women.
The rate of newcomers the organization serves every month has doubled year over year, he said.
“Food banks do not solve food insecurity,” said Froh.
“We need to have some very hard conversations in our province as to why food bank usage is at a record high…. Our biggest challenge is, frankly, having enough capacity to meet the actual need.”
The Saskatoon Food Bank & Learning Center is also feeling the effects of high food costs in the city, with more people lining up to pick up free groceries.
The organization had more than 20,000 visits in August of this year, up from around 13,000 in August 2021, it said earlier this month.
The Prince Albert Food Bank saw a client increase of about 12 per cent above the pre-COVID-19 pandemic numbers, according to , executive director Kim Scruby.
Due to inventory levels, customers can pick up a food hamper once a month, he said, and his organization is handing out more than 1,100 hampers a month.
“It’s increasing every month,” said Scruby. “We’re seeing a pretty big increase in employed people coming in.”
In Moose Jaw, Gauthier says he used to be embarrassed that he needed the help of the food bank. But he says he’s now comfortable speaking openly about being a client.
“Now it’s like I have no choice, you know, and unfortunately I am not rich,” said Gauthier.
He recommends others who also need help to ensure they have enough to eat also visit a food bank.
“Don’t be scared to go in…. They don’t judge you.”