Okanagan food banks serving never-before-seen clients during pandemic including hospitality workers

Image Credit: FACEBOOK / Salvation Army Penticton

Okanagan food banks are seeing a spike in use due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and are helping people who normally wouldn’t need their services.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Central Okanagan Community Food Bank has seen a 21 per cent increase when compared to 2019’s numbers for the same period, executive director Trevor Maus said.

“We’re seeing low income, working families really access the food bank, we’re seeing families would have never dreamed that they had to use the food bank because they’re laid off,” he said.

READ MORE: Kamloops Food Bank breaks record, collects 70,000 pounds in food donations

Hospitality workers are also showing up at food banks.

“Even though they’re going back to work they still need us because they may only be getting half the tips," Maus said.

Joy Haxton with the Lake Country Food Bank said they are also seeing people from the hospitality industry coming through the door, along with seasonal workers who have been laid off due to the pandemic.

“If the restaurants aren’t rolling, then you don’t have deliveries, people doing the harvesting, etc. A lot of people who are coming through are farmworkers,” Haxton said. Since February, there has been a 30 per cent increase in use overall at the food bank in Lake Country compared to last year. 

B.C. is currently in Phase 3 of its economic restart plan, meaning that hotels, movie theatres, parks and the film industry are operational with social distancing measures in place. Restaurants and bars were ordered to closed in March, and could only do take-out options until Phase 2 was announced. 

“The first wave of users who came through were people on the fringes during the pandemic, who may have been already registered clients, but only use the bank in times of need. With this second wave, the bank is being visited by new customers in industries that were unable to open or who have opened with drastically reduced staff during the pandemic," Haxton said.

READ MORE: Demand at food bank on the rise in Kelowna due to COVID-19

Haxton is also hearing more worst-case scenario stories than previously, like people living in a camper with no electricity.

John Rankin with the Salvation Army Food Bank in Penticton said the number of clients they serve has doubled since the same time last year.

"We have seen a significant increase in those who were employed, but lost their jobs, or had their hours drastically reduced because of COVID,” he said in an email. The Penticton food bank has started a new program which gives grab-and-go bags to more than 100 people daily, he said. The bags contain produce, deli, dairy, beverages, baked items and other foods.

At the end of March, the B.C. government announced a $3 million funding boost for food banks as they struggled to volunteers during the pandemic.

The Salvation Army Food Bank in Vernon could not be reached for comment.


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