Food banks across B.C. co-ordinate to cover needs as flooding strains supply chain

·3 min read
The pandemic, floods, and strained supply chains have put a strain on B.C. food banks as they head into their busiest season.  (Maggie MacPherson/CBC - image credit)
The pandemic, floods, and strained supply chains have put a strain on B.C. food banks as they head into their busiest season. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC - image credit)

On a Monday morning in late November, the lineup for the Richmond Food Bank snakes through the parking lot and around the block.

Hajira Hussain, the food bank's executive director, said demand is up seven per cent up since October — and the busiest month of the year is yet to come.

"Any supply chain issue or any increase to food prices definitely increases the number of people that are accessing the food bank," said Hussain.

Food banks, already dealing with higher-than-usual demand since the start of the pandemic, are now also coping with the supply chain issues affecting much of B.C., made worse by the catastrophic flooding that has shut down many critical highways.

So far, the food bank in Richmond has managed to avoid most of the shortages, said Hussain, which is now sending six crates of excess non-perishable food items to the hard-hit Chilliwack food bank on a daily basis.

Still, there are items that have become difficult to find.

"We usually provide eggs, and they are back ordered, so hopefully it will even itself out as the highways and the roads are opening up," said Hussain.

Empty shelves in grocery stores across B.C. have once again become a common sight, driven by a combination of flood-induced panic-buying, and shortages caused by ongoing supply chain issues.

In the immediate aftermath of the flooding, the Abbotsford Food Bank saw unprecedented demand, as families who lost homes when water surged accessed it for the first time. Much of the perishable fresh foods that they serve come from local farms, which have been severely impacted by the floods. Shelves were often empty by 1:30 p.m.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Hussain said while many of the initial shortages have subsided, she urges people to resist the urge to panic buy and buy more than their household needs, explaining the behaviour harms those who can't afford to hoard.

"Panic buying definitely affects the people who want to go to the grocery store to buy their essentials," she said.

"My request to people is, leave some for the people that need it, especially the essentials — your milk, your eggs. Take what you need and leave some for others because there's no need to panic buy at this time," she said.

Hussain said the shortages have been in part offset by efforts from FoodMesh — a local food recovery service that works with grocers and other organizations to "rescue" foods that would otherwise go to waste.

The food recovered by FoodMesh has allowed the Richmond food bank to increase its perishable food offerings from 30 per cent of its overall inventory, to 70 per cent.

Megan Czerpak of FoodMesh said it also diverts food past its expiry date to farmers, who in turn use it to feed their animals.

"We make sure that anything that is edible goes to hunger relief organizations to turn into meals, while anything that is no longer appropriate for human consumption is diverted to farmers for animal feed. So meals first remains our top priority," she said.

Hussain said that while the food banks across B.C. continue to face cascading challenges, the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic have served her well.

"The pandemic has taught us so many good lessons and it has definitely equipped us to tackle these changes so we are in a better position to source food now," she said.

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