Fighting Hunger

Community Groups Struggle to Feed Record Numbers

A Point St. Charles resident waits for a bag of groceries outside of a Montreal food bank. Photo Justin Giovanetti

Sylvie is a single mother. She works full time at a minimum-wage job to provide for her two children. Faced with mounting credit card debt and a stack of other bills, Sylvie turned to a food bank to help ease the cost of feeding her family.

20% Increase in Montrealers using emergency food banks since 2009

5% decrease in donations to food banks since 2009

140 thousand Montrealers use emergency food banks each month

13% of Montrealers using emergency food banks are employed

“The kids need to eat,” she said. “It’s tough to swallow your pride and accept help but when you have no other choice, what are you going to do?”

According to a study conducted by Moisson Montréal, an organization that donates food to 213 community centres across the island, the number of Montrealers seeking the aid of an emergency food bank rose to 140,967 this year—a 22-per-cent increase from 2009.

“The biggest change from last year is the amount of workers who need our services,” said Gwen Janvier, a spokesperson for Montreal-based community centre Sun Youth. “In the past we almost only served the unemployed, but now people who work but don’t have enough to survive come here.”

In 2008, Sun Youth offered bags of groceries to 1,600 Montrealers each month. That number rose to 2,500 in 2010. And while the demand for subsidized food is rising, Moisson Montéal’s study found that the amount of donations they receive shrunk by five per cent in the past year.

“The economy has hit some of our corporate donors hard, and in some cases they can’t afford to donate anything anymore,” said Janvier. “So we’re seeking more and more private donations to try and compensate.”

Judy Stevens is the director of Share the Warmth, a community outreach centre in Point-St-Charles. She said the centre is also feeling the strain of having to do more with less.

On Wednesdays and Thursdays, people from across Montreal’s South West borough line up on a sidewalk outside the Point-St-Charles food bank to buy a bag of groceries for a dollar. That line has been growing every week for over a year.

“At first we thought it was because another food bank, called The Great Shepherd, had shut down,” said Stevens. “But more people kept coming and we’re serving about 10 new people every week.”

While Share the Warmth’s growing list of clients is stretching the community group’s already limited resources thin, Stevens remains optimistic.

“It’s never a matter of if we can get things done,” she said. “We’ll get it done because we have to. It’s not over the top yet, we’re managing. We’ll find a way because we always have.”

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 15, published November 23, 2010.