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Esquimalt food bank straining under unprecedented, pandemic-fueled ‘tidal wave’

Victoria’s Rainbow Kitchen is seeing new clients every day, including those who used to donate

Resources at an Esquimalt meal hall are under strain as staff tackles the greatest need for their services they’ve seen in a decade.

Typically, Victoria’s Rainbow Kitchen Society would see a few new faces a month at its 500 Admirals Rd. community hall. Now, it is seeing a new face every day.

“We’re seeing folks who maybe had an extra couple of dollars to donate are now joining us as guests,” said executive director Patrick Johnston.

Igne Rozee, the society’s longest-serving volunteer cook, said daily demand for hot and free meals for young families jumped from 100 to 300 last month. She’s never seen anything like it in her decade in the kitchen.

Food Banks Canada reported the combination of 2021’s rising housing and food costs, pandemic job cuts and the retraction of federal government support created a perfect storm. An inevitable “tidal wave” of clients – one-third of them children – has fallen on food banks across the country.

More than 1.3 million Canadians visited a food bank last March in a 20.3 per cent increase over March 2019, the organization reports. Funding and stock for Rainbow Kitchen to meet the massive uptick has come mainly from local donors and grocery partnerships.

“Donations (through the holiday season) last year were very abundant. Generosity came from COVID,” Johnston said.

Johnston said that since clients can’t eat in the hall during the pandemic, meal packaging has heightened expenses and the workload on its 200 volunteer staff.

“Getting there a little earlier, cooking a little earlier and making sure it can all get sent out for a noon lunch … it’s a huge change,” he said.

“It comes down to us budgeting (supplies) as much as we can,” he continued. Because of the extra work, Johnston said he hasn’t had the capacity to launch a full-fledged fundraising effort.

READ ALSO: Flood damage disrupts supply for Greater Victoria food banks

A lack could mean the end of the society’s school meal program, which provides 2,000 breakfasts to two local schools, or its Meals on Wheel delivery service for clients with accessibility needs.

“These are your neighbours, your community, and they’re hurting more than they’ve ever hurt before,” Johnston said. “We’re lucky that we can provide – we have a great team that will show up every day to make it happen. (But) I need those cans of beans, that rice, and those extra dollars to help us survive this next chunk of time.

“We’re hopeful for an ending to this, but we don’t know if it’s happening any time soon.”

Rozee herself said she was let go from her position as a cleaner at a local hospital. The Rainbow Kitchen has since helped her with supplying her produce.

“It would be great to live in a world where we don’t need Rainbow Kitchen,” Johnston said. “But we need us more than we’ve ever needed us before.”

READ ALSO: Donations of expired food continue to come into Saanich Peninsula Lions Food Bank

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