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‘The need has never been greater’: Rural Manitoba food bank usage on the rise

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Food banks in rural Manitoba are seeing a rise in users and for some, it comes at the cost of their bottom line.

For over 30 years, Evergreen Basic Needs in Gimli, Man. has been serving people in and around the Interlake region.

“Some people have been with us for a fair length of time, for whatever reason, but we have also seen the newcomers, the Ukrainian population that many communities have seen an increase in,” said Karen Bowman with Evergreen Basic Needs.

As a result, food bank usage at Evergreen Basic Needs has increased 30 per cent since 2020.

“Our donations have decreased almost the similar amount since that time,” Bowman said.

According to Harvest Manitoba, rural food banks served an average of nearly 35,000 households every month in 2022 and 2023 – up almost a thousand homes from the previous year.

“We’re seeing ever more people with jobs, employed individuals, who are accessing food banks all across our province, so the need has never been greater than it is today,” said Harvest Manitoba CEO Vince Barletta.

In Gimli, food bank usage jumped from 50 to 70 households in 2022, and has stayed consistent ever since.

The demand comes at a cost.

“We are now buying food far more often than we ever have before. Prior to the pandemic, it was maybe once or twice a year we would have to buy food. Since January, I think we bought it four or five times and each time, we’re buying $2,000 to $3,000 worth of food.”

To help with high costs in Winnipeg Beach, community volunteers decided to open up a food cupboard.

“The first day we were open here at the new location - five people in just an hour, so I think that's fairly good for a small community,” said Lisa Teel, one of the cupboard’s operators.

The cupboard been open to the public since November, but moved into a bigger space just this week, which allows it to be more flexible with its hours of operation and to work around those in need.

"They don't get off work until 8:00 at night, or they need to come during school hours, or they need to come before their shift," Teel said.

"We're trying to let them lead the hours of the cupboard."

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