MONTREAL -- The rapid rise in food prices is impacting many of Montreal’s food banks.

Supermarket prices have gone up as much as 30 per cent, which experts attribute to galloping inflation caused by production slowdowns during the pandemic, disruptions in the global supply chain, and climate change.  

Turkey producers were already facing low supply before COVID hit, making the holiday staple harder to obtain.

For outreach organization Sun Youth, this is bad news. The non-profit says it expects to distribute 5,000 food baskets this holiday season, but says there may not be enough to go around, as more and more families are having trouble making ends meet.

“We’re planning for 5,000 families and there are few spots left. There’s less than 1,000 spots left for emergency cases, so we’re gonna max out, which is something we don’t alway do,” explains Sun Youth’s Eric Kingsley.

One of the tougher decisions Kingsley made was replacing Sun Youth’s distribution of 3,000 turkeys with chicken instead. Sun Youth had ordered the turkeys in September from a B.C. supplier, but recent floodings in the province cut off supply lines, leaving the charity empty-handed.

Sun Youth says it’s inviting donors with access to frozen turkeys to bring them over to their distribution facility, so at least a handful of families can enjoy a turkey this holiday season. 

DOUBLE CHALLENGE

Inflation poses a double challenge for food banks, driving more people to seek help with their rising bills, while making it harder for charities to buy food to help them, said Martin Munger, general manager of the Food Banks of Quebec.

"Since September, it is more difficult," he said. "You can really feel it, in going to food banks, that there are more people coming than the summer or last spring."

It's not just food. In Quebec, the consumer price index rose 5.3 per cent over one year, according to Statistics Canada.

"When rent is more expensive, when travel costs more, when children's clothes to go to school are more expensive, the compressible mass at the end is food," said Munger. "When they can't support themselves, people come to food banks."

Already in March, nearly 610,000 people went to food banks each month, according to a report published by Food Banks of Quebec. This was a 22 per cent increase from before the pandemic. This figure could be even higher with the surge in inflation.

While the spirit of solidarity during the holiday season is a welcome help, Munger said that the first few months of the year are difficult for people who go to food banks.

"Once the holiday season [haul] has been distributed, the months of January, February and March are generally very difficult for food banks and the people who need them," he said.

NEED FOR STORAGE SPACE

Members of the Quebec Food Bank network also need more storage space, says Munger. The organization has just gotten aid from the Quebec government of up to $3 million to finance projects in this vein.

The amounts were provided for in the budget unveiled in March by the Minister of Finance, Eric Girard, but the official announcement was made on Monday.

With their food recovery programs in partnership with 440 supermarkets in Quebec, food banks need more freezing and processing space, explains Mr. Munger.

"When you receive meat that has not passed its date, but is approaching the pre-emption date, well, you have to freeze it or process it."

Needs vary from organization to organization, with some food banks needing kitchen space, others with other problems. Spending the $3 million will be no problem, with a committee selecting them, Munger said.

He was unable to say how many projects will be selected with the $3 million envelope. He noted that part of the funding would be obtained from private donors and that government money could subsidize up to 70 per cent of a project.

On average, a project could represent an investment of around $200,000, he said.

--With files from The Canadian Press