Amherst food bank bucking national trend

Darrell Cole
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Demand holding strong despite provincial, national drop

Amherst's food bank is busier than ever, despite a drop in use across the region, the province and the country.

Volunteers (from left) Pat Howell, Jeff Marshall and Jennifer MacCallum work at the Amehrst food bank on King Street. Food bank use in Amherst continues to increase, even though it’s down across the northern region and the province.

AMHERST – Food bank use may be down across Nova Scotia, but it’s holding strong in Amherst.

While figures released by Food Banks Canada on Tuesday indicate food bank use in Nova Scotia declined by 7.6 per cent over 2012, Rev. Charlotte Ross of the Amherst Food Assistance Network said the Amherst food bank on King Street continues to see increasing demand.

“Our numbers went up last year and they’ve stayed up,” Ross said. “We have yet to see a decline. In fact, we’re continuing to see new families every week.”

The figures, part of the national Hunger Count, showed there were 1,800 fewer people using food banks in Nova Scotia in March 2013 compared to the previous March. The numbers were down 4.5 per cent nationally with only Alberta and Saskatchewan seeing bigger decreases.

Ross said many of the people using the food bank in Amherst have jobs, but they aren’t earning enough money to pay for heat and electricity, rent and for food – especially, healthy, nutritious food.

“Things like power rates, housing costs and food costs keep going up and it’s leading to decisions on whether to pay the power bill or buy food,” Ross said.

Feed Nova Scotia executive director Dianne Swinemar said food bank use across northern Nova Scotia, including Cumberland, Colchester and East Hants, said was down between 2012 and 2013 with 3,568 individuals cared for last year and 3,292 looked after this year.

She’s not sure of the reason for the eight per cent drop, but suggested it could be because more people have left the area for work in Alberta. Still, she cautioned, the number is still 29 per cent higher provincially than it was in 2008.

Swinemar hopes food bank use continues to drop, but she said it’s important for people to continue supporting their local food bank.

“The answer is not to support food banks any longer. If you think about your own personal expenses and see what’s gone up it won’t take you long to figure out much more expensive it is to live. There have been a lot of changes that have impacted a lot of people,” Swinemar said. “If you’re on a fixed income it becomes even more challenging. The appeal is still to the community that in Nova Scotia in March 21,760 individuals used the food bank.

“We looked at the raw data for 2012 and there were over 37,000 different individuals who used the food bank at least once in this province. That’s significant.”

Swinemar said 45 per cent of those using the food bank in the northern region did so one to three times last year, 19 per cent used it four to six times, eight per cent used it seven to nine times, seven per cent used it 10 to 12 times and 21 per cent used it more than 12 times.

Twitter: @ADNdarrell

Organizations: Amherst food bank, Food Banks Canada, Amherst Food Assistance Network

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, AMHERST, Alberta King Street Saskatchewan Northern Nova Scotia Colchester

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