Area food bank volunteers have been working diligently during the past two pandemic years to meet the growing demand as families struggled to make ends meet during job losses and the rising cost of food.

We decided to check in on area food banks to see how they were doing financially.

It might surprise you to know that area food banks have financial reserves in varying amounts.

Leading the pack locally was the La Société de Saint-Vincent de Paul organization in Alexandria, which had assets of $868,921 as of December 31, 2020. That amount included $191,932 in cash, bank accounts and short-term investments, $316,052 in long-term investments, $344,408 in land and buildings and $3,915 in other capital assets. Its total revenues were $277,429, including $149,940 from the sale of goods and services and $102,995 which represented the total eligible amount of all gifts for which the charity issued tax receipts. Total expenditures were $219,140.

The second-highest reserve amounts are reported by the Community Assistance Fund Enterprise (CAFE), which manages the Vankleek Hill Food Bank and the Thrift Shop at 124 Main Street East in Vankleek Hill. All proceeds from the sale of donated clothing and households goods to the thrift shop are used to purchase food to supply the food bank’s families in need.

The CAFE had a cash reserve of $421,814 in cash, bank accounts and short-term investments as of September 30, 2021. It also had $417,741 in long-term investments, for a total of $839,555. It had total revenue of $57,889 for that 12-month fiscal period, with $44,065 in expenses.

In third place, was the Alfred Food Bank, which had total assets and reserves totaling $437,259 as of October 31, 2020. This amount includes the building that it owns. Its total revenue for the 12-month fiscal period was $72,948, while it spent $60,143.

The Hawkesbury Central Food Bank reported $341,411 in cash, bank accounts and short-term investments for the fiscal period ending March 31, 2021, with a total of final assets at $416,581. Its total revenue was $429,450, with a one-time revenue of $171,611 for the sale of its building. The Hawkesbury Central Food Bank is now housed in the former Hawkesbury OPP station, owned by the Town of Hawkesbury, and are not paying rent.

Expenses totalled $256,060, which includes $200,466 in fair market value of all donated goods used in charitable activities.

The L’Orignal Food Bank had $188,307 in cash, bank accounts and short-term investments as of December 31, 2020. Its total revenues were $81,210, with expenses totaling $62,064. It, too, has a thrift shop where donated clothing and other items raise funds for the food bank.

In all, cash, assets and reserves for these five food banks totalled $2.75 million.

Sounds like a lot of moolah, right?

It’s not that simple, says Robert Lefebvre, treasurer of the Hawkesbury Central Food Bank. He says that inflation and the increasing cost of living is causing hardship all around. There are families who have never had to turn to the food bank before that are now looking for help.

As the cost of food goes up, more people turn to the food bank to fill the gap. Lefebvre says the increase in the number of people using the food bank is “alarming.”

But more than that, he says grocery stores are stocking less and that there were plentiful food donations from grocery stores before the prices starting climbing. But that has dwindled to a trickle, he says. Food Banks Canada, a national organization that assists food banks, might have 30, 40 or 50 pallets of food and products to distribute among 29 food banks in the past, it now could have just three pallets of food to be shared by the same 29 food banks.

“Grocery stores are not stocking inventory the way they used to. There is no surplus. So there is less being sent to the food bank,” Lefebvre says. In addition, donations to the food bank are decreasing following a surge of support from the public during the pandemic years. And it costs food banks more to purchase food and grocery items for those in need.

Lefebvre says if it were not for $39,000 received as part of a third phase of funding from the United Counties of Prescott-Russell Social Services department, along with $17,000 received from Food Banks Canada, the Hawkesbury Food Bank would be facing a $60,000 deficit this year. It would not take long to go through a few hundred thousand dollars, says Lefebvre, referring to a deficit situation and to how he has had to cut back on the purchase of costly items like fresh fruit, for example.

People don’t realize the reality of inflation, and how increased costs for things like fuel for your car mean that people are left with less money to spend on food. according to Lefebvre. “We all like to complain, but for some, inflation is really affecting how they live and what they can afford.”

The national inflation rate in Canada increased to more than six per cent in February and March of 2022.

Community Assistance Fund Enterprise treasurer Carol Hall says that people have been generous over the years when it comes to supporting the Vankleek Hill Food Bank. And it is, in part, that sense of community and generosity that lead to two bequests which have given the food bank a financial safety net, or large reserve. There were large bequests made to the Vankleek Hill Food Bank in 2018 and again in 2020.

Jane Fantie and her husband, Mike McGurk, are key volunteers with the food bank organization, which is entirely volunteer-driven. In addition to the organization’s recent move to Main Street, which involved the expansion of the thrift shop, the organization launched a garden initiative last year.

Local food banks

Saint-Vincent-de-Paul Food Bank: 613-525-0941
Located at 166 St Paul St, Alexandria

Hawkesbury Central Food Bank: 613-636-0666
Located at 419 Cartier Blvd., Hawkesbury.

Vankleek Hill Food Bank: 613-678-8119
Located at 124 Main Street East in Vankleek Hill

Banque Alimentaire Alfred Food Bank: 613-679-4269

L’Orignal Food Bank: 613-675-1999
261 Longueuil Street, L’Orignal