Abbotsford Food Bank reaches crisis level as supplies run low

Current stock will last less than two weeks, says manager

Abbotsford Food Bank manager Dave Murray shows the almost-empty shelves where canned soup is stored at the facility on Essendene Avenue. Shortfalls have forced the food bank to lower staffing levels and recently spend $20

Abbotsford Food Bank manager Dave Murray shows the almost-empty shelves where canned soup is stored at the facility on Essendene Avenue. Shortfalls have forced the food bank to lower staffing levels and recently spend $20

The Abbotsford Community Services Food Bank has reached a crisis situation, with manager Dave Murray saying the facility has only enough donated food to last another 10 days.

The shortfall means Murray had to spend $20,000 from the food bank coffers late last week to purchase items considered essential, such as pasta, rice and beans.

That supply will last only about two weeks, and Murray estimates he will then have to spend another $20,000.

“I’ve never done that before in my 16 years here,” he said.

Murray said it’s not uncommon for the food bank to have to spend up to $5,000 to purchase items during slow periods, such as during the summer, but he’s concerned about the amount of food he has had to buy this time around.

Another first for food bank staff and volunteers is that they are running out of canned soup – usually one of their most commonly donated items.

The shelves designated for this product are usually filled, with boxes waiting on the sidelines. Now, the shelves are either empty or nearing empty and there are no spares, either at the main food bank facility on Essendene Avenue or at the warehouse on Progressive Way.

Murray said that usually at this time of year, volunteers are already working on preparing food hampers for Christmas, but there hasn’t been enough spare food available to get a head start this year.

He said although the food bank also reached a crisis point last year, that wasn’t until November, and the shortage of items wasn’t as pronounced.

Murray speculates that the economy has continued to impact the amount of disposable income people have to contribute.

“Their dollars just aren’t going as far,” he said.

Murray said the pressures are compounded by more demand for service, with the food bank serving about 10 per cent more people now – about 4,000 each month in total – than it did a year ago.

Warehouse co-ordinator Lynden Pennell said another issue is that many of the donated items, although always appreciated, aren’t considered essential. These include snack foods and treats, such as pudding, cookies and pickles.

Those are used as extras in food hampers, but Pennell said it would be more beneficial for people to donate the key items instead.

“When you’re not getting a proper meal, can you live off a bottle of ketchup or a box of cookies?” he said.

Pennell said the food bank typically receives 50 to 60 pallets of non-essential items from October to December, compared to 10 to 12 pallets of essential products for the entire year.

Murray said that although cash donations are on par with where they normally are at this time of year, having to dip into those funds to purchase food can impact other services that the food bank offers.

These services include an on-site dental clinic, kids’ soccer camps and the Basics for Babies program, which provides baby supplies to low-income families.

Murray said the food bank has tried to accommodate the extra pressures, including not filling three of four staff positions that were vacated, saving about $100,000 of the approximate $980,000 annual budget.

Anyone wanting to donate food can do so by dropping off items at the food bank (33914 Essendene Ave.), Real Canadian Superstore, Save-On-Foods and Safeway.

The five most-needed items are: rice, peanut butter, canned meat, canned vegetables and canned soup.

Other needed items include: pasta and sauce, flour, sugar, oats and cereals.

For more information, visit abbotsfordfoodbank.com or call 604-859-5749.