Food Banks B.C. reviews model as members struggle with demand, lack of donations

Flour, canned vegetables and baby food line the aisles of Guru Nanak Food Bank in Delta, B.C., which organizers say has seen an increase in demand. 

Neeraj Walia, secretary of the Guru Nanak Food Bank, says in 2022 its number of registered users stood at 7,300. Today it stands at more than 18,000 and donations are not keeping pace with rising demand.

Neeraj Walia is pictured at the Guru Nanak Food Bank in Delta, B.C on Friday April 19, 2024.
Neeraj Walia is pictured at the Guru Nanak Food Bank in Delta, B.C., on April 19, 2024. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

“This is the toughest time we’ve ever seen … Usually we get walk-in donations, donations by mail, cheques online. That’s all dropped off by 60 per cent. This is a very critical situation,” Walia said.

The independently operated food bank — which provides users with fresh fruit, vegetables and canned goods, but also with cultural staples such as atta, wheat flour used to make flatbreads, and ghee, clarified butter — relies on volunteers and runs without support from Food Banks B.C., a provincial association of food banks. 

Walia says he wants more support in the way of provincial and federal funding. He also wants Guru Nanak to join Food Banks B.C. but alleges the membership process was far from easy to access.

“We are just like being passed out from one agency to the other agency,” Walia says. “Guru Nanak Food Bank has more than 18,000 recipients. We need a lot of help.”

Demand has never been never higher: association

Food Banks B.C. executive director Dan Huang-Taylor says demand for food banks has never been higher, with 98,000 unique individuals accessing food banks in the last month.

Funds from various levels of government are allocated by Food Banks B.C. to its membership, which consists of more than 100 food banks.  

It says it’s looking at changing its membership model to reach more food banks across the province.

“The sheer number of hunger relief agencies that have cropped up has required that we look at our agency model and our membership model and look for a way to create a stronger network of hunger relief and food bank operations,” he said.

“That would be by broadening and reaching more agencies and therefore reaching more British Columbians in need.”

Executive Director of Food Banks BC, Dan Huang-Taylor.
Dan Huang-Taylor, executive director of Food Banks B.C. (CBC News)

Huang-Taylor says it offered the Guru Nanak Food Bank $30,000 in one-time non-member funding, but their offer was declined.

“We have a non-member fund that’s available to agencies that aren’t part of our network. There’s a scale of funds that are available depending on the size of the operation,” he says.

“Guru Nanak Food Bank isn’t part of the network. They never asked for a membership. We haven’t received an application. We’ve been in conversations following their expressing interest.”

Walia confirms the Guru Nanak Food Bank rejected the one-time funding offer, saying the ultimate goal is membership with Food Banks B.C. In an email exchange from last year, Guru Nanak Food Bank outlines its reasoning for rejecting the funding. 

“As an active food bank in the community, we aspire to uphold the same standards as our fellow partners. We believe that membership in FBBC will enable us to serve our community even better. However, until we receive a final response from FBBC regarding our request for equal membership, we are unable to make any decisions regarding our involvement in the non-member funding allocation.”

Walia says they haven’t formally applied for membership because the process was unclear. 

Membership would help food banks access provincial and federal funding, discount buying programs and produce received from major manufacturers. 

Last year the province announced $200 million to boost B.C. food banks and address food insecurity, with $15 million allocated to Food Banks B.C

Volunteers pack groceries for people in need at the Guru Nanak Food Bank in Delta, B.C on Friday April 19, 2024.
Volunteers pack groceries for people in need at the Guru Nanak Food Bank in Delta, B.C., on April 19, 2024. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Sheila Malcolmson, B.C.’s social development and poverty reduction minister, says to access any of that funding, Guru Nanak Food Bank would have to formally apply to become a member of Food Banks B.C. 

“Culturally appropriate food is a really important part of our program. There’s real strength in diversity here and we recognize the need for specialization,” Malcolmson said.

“We’re certainly talking to both organizations. My understanding is that Food Banks B.C. offered Guru Nanak Food Bank $30,000, which they turned down. I’m trying to understand why that would be. But certainly for them to apply for membership is up to them.”

Reliance on food banks 

International students, new immigrants and an increasing number of Canadians struggling with the high cost of living contribute to the higher number of people relying on food banks, according to Tammara Soma, associate professor at Simon Fraser University in Resource & Environmental Management. 

“Seventy-five per cent of food bank recipients are employed and many of them have multiple jobs. And so this is something that is very, very concerning, especially because of the increasing cost of housing price inflation.”

Soma adds competition for membership for organizations such as Food Banks B.C. can be fierce, with dozens of food banks competing for funding, with volunteers and donors are often left feeling the brunt of the burden.

“What I’m concerned about is increasingly the government’s reliance on food banks and these amazing frontline workers to really fill the gap in terms of food security solutions.

“We cannot rely and depend on volunteers and these overburdened charities to provide an increasingly dire and growing need, and so I think that we need to find more long lasting sustainable solutions.”


Posted in CBC