Hunger is something many of us often don’t take much time to think about.
Yet it is a topic that deserves more attention from all levels of government, especially as prices continue to climb.
Last week, Statistics Canada reported that Canadians on average saw a 5.1 percent year-over-year increase in the consumer price index, with special emphasis on rise in costs to housing, gas and groceries.
In Yellowknife, our closest NWT representative that was measured, there was a four per cent increase in the cost of basic goods since Jan. 2021.
Recently the Town of Hay River partnered with the Hay River Seniors’ Society to apply and acquire much needed funding from the Community Food Centres Canada’s Good Food Access Fund which will see $40,000 go to food distribution non-profits around town.
While the town and non-profits celebrated the receiving of assistance as the fruits of volunteers and local government working together, it should be pointed out that that money will not go to waste over the coming months and may not go far enough based on recent feedback we have received from Hay River’s Senior Society, food hamper program and Soup Kitchen.
They all say the same thing. From “cradle to grave,” children, families and seniors, who may or may not be on fixed incomes, have become increasingly dependent on food assistance programs in recent months.
It particularly struck us as worrying that the Hay River Seniors’ Society is finding it difficult to get aging members of our community – the fastest growing demographic in the NWT – to accept “handouts” even when on fixed income and going days without food.
It is of equal concern that over the winter the food hamper program through the Anglican Church has seen a sharp increase in demand from families in need of meals from eight hampers weekly in November to more than 20 in recent weeks.
While the Hay River Soup kitchen is seeing more of a steady stream of between 100 to 120 people seeking help with food, that is only tied to the three of seven days that it is open.
To be fair, the federal government has stepped up to make several food assistance announcements over the course of the pandemic and has tried to address food sustainability and access needs across the North.
Perhaps most noteworthy, along with Community Food Centres, the federal government has recognized the critical work that non-profit organizations do to identify those in need and feed the hungry, including the Salvation Army, Food Banks Canada, and Second Harvest.
Aside from extensive investments farming initiatives across the NWT which aims to improve food sustainability and cut costs, the territory has received some of the hundreds of millions from the Government of Canada’s Emergency Food Security Fund since the beginning of the pandemic.
As recently as December, an additional top-up of $30 million was provided in that fund to give it a total of $330 million since 2020.
According to NWT MP Michael McLeod’s office, these investments are largely in response to food assistance organizations “coping with increased demand and fewer resources as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and extreme weather conditions” in Canada.
It is clear when speaking with people outside our own two grocery stores that residents are becoming increasingly frustrated and bewildered at the increasing cost of groceries along with fuel and other needs.
We implore our territorial and federal representatives to keep food costs and levels of hunger in mind as preparations for 2022 budgets take place.