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Castlegar food bank copes with higher grocery prices

Rising inflation has resulted in increased use of the Community Harvest Food Bank in Castlegar along with a change in clientele.

“It means we have to watch prices,” co-ordinator Deb McIntosh says. “It means we can’t always get what we want. It’s always a stressor when prices go up. You have to decide do we buy canned fruit or not? Do we buy peanut butter?”

McIntosh says they are also attracting a different group than before, specifically a lot of international students as well as seniors on low-income pensions. Others who managed on their own are now finding that with increased food and fuel prices, “they need that extra little bit.”

McIntosh says demand is up generally, and people are just looking for the basics.

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“Not so much the canned soups and typical food bank fare but things like propane and cooking oil,” she says. There is also a demand for spices among the international students. “They have a very different palette, so we’re learning how to work with them on that.”

McIntosh says they have been operating with funds that came in during COVID. She says agencies such as theirs do well in a crisis, when individuals and companies are more likely to donate. But they will soon start fundraising again, to ensure a solid cushion in the bank.

McIntosh says some clients will phone ahead to explain what they want — “feminine hygiene products and shampoo are big ones” — but most just take the standard fare and whatever is available for vegetables, which they are able to pick through at their leisure.

“We try and accommodate but we have a pretty set shopping list and then the donations that come in are a value added,” she says. “We try and listen to what people say they need. Sometimes we can definitely get them that, other times it’s out of our reach.”

The food bank feeds about 100 people three days a week, including singles, couples, and families, although numbers fluctuate between 80 and 110.

McIntosh says they also try to help the homeless population with gift cards for groceries and are always on the lookout for sleeping bags, camp stoves, and tents. They also receive donations of clothing.

The food bank spends close to $100,000 per year on food, between hampers and lunches.

“We shop locally to support the grocers and stores that support us, especially through the hard times,” McIntosh says. “They were terrific to us.”

She says it’s reassuring to know that Food Banks BC, Food Banks Canada, and the greater community are also very generous.

“We know that when the crunch hits we can depend on those agencies and our community. Although it’s a pressure and you feel it, we also know the region has our back.”

The food bank is in the St. David’s Anglican Church basement and is open Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. If you need help, you can phone 250-608-1047 between 9 and 10:30 a.m. to register and they will have things ready by noon.

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