Food hub struggling to meet rising demand

As Burnaby’s cost of living crisis deepens, the program director for Burnaby Neighbourhood House says it is struggling to keep up with demand

Families, seniors, newcomers and students; the people seeking food assistance at Burnaby Neighbourhood House (BNH) are a microcosm of society. Over the past year, the BNH food hub has been seeing a steady increase of people queuing up for a weekly food hamper. 

On Nov. 8, the CEO of BNH, Antonia Beck and Board Chair Ted Wiens spoke at Burnaby City Council’s Planning and Development Committee meeting. Their presentation outlined the urgent need for more space, especially at the BNH North Burnaby location, and requested that the city provide a subsidized space large enough to accommodate the food hub and other programming. 

North Burnaby Neighbourhood House. Photo: Burnaby Neighbourhood House

“Our food hub has grown 30% increase in demand, every single year since we started during COVID,” Wiens said. 

“The issue with North Burnaby, with the house is that there is no space to run programs out of right now. Food hub has pretty well taken over. It’s a very expensive food hub right now, but we can’t close it down. And with the fridges and freezers there’s even less space there,” Beck added. 

But space is not the only issue BNH is facing. With skyrocketing inflation, BNH is also struggling to meet the needs of all the people who show up every week to access their free food hampers. The Beacon spoke with program director Kimberly Barwich who provided more information on the current state of food insecurity in Burnaby. 

“On a weekly basis, if you come to one of our food hubs, you’ll see an addition of five to 10 new people every single week. And that has not slowed down,” she said. According to Barwich, the increase in struggling individuals, families and seniors is straining the capacity of BNH as well as similar organizations that support people with low incomes. 

“If the food hub is open till 4, by the time 3 rolls around, we may have considerably less food available,” Barwich said. They are also struggling to provide enough produce, fresh meat and dairy. To try to keep up with increased demand, BNH has resorted to reducing portion sizes in each hamper. The contents of food hampers vary by week and Vancouver Food Bank sends BNH weekly deliveries that contain canned proteins like tuna or chicken, pasta, canned pasta sauce, and occasionally fresh produce and dairy products. 

Burnaby Neighbourhood House food hub. Photo: Burnaby Neighbourhood House

During the Nov. 8 meeting, Mayor Mike Hurley spoke in favour of helping BNH find a larger, subsidized location in North Burnaby that would help meet their needs. 

“Neighbourhood House plays a critical role in the social fabric of our city. I think it’s incumbent upon us to work with you and try to meet your needs in the north as we have in the south,” Hurley said. He added that while Burnaby should try to get other orders of government involved, it should take the lead to ensure BNH continues to provide for people in need. He asked the planning team to support BNH and try to find a suitable location. 

Since then, however, BNH has not heard back from the city. Barwich said BNH does not expect an immediate response, as the city has its processes and it may take some time. “The city does the best that they can,” she said, “The city has been very supportive throughout our history in Burnaby.” 

According to Beck and Wiens, however, the lease for the North Burnaby location comes up for renewal in December, and the landlord has let BNH know that rent will increase. The current North Burnaby location is leased at market rates, while the BNH South Burnaby is a city-owned location leased at a subsidized rate. 

Although the BNH location in North Burnaby has been taken over by the food hub, Barwich hopes the North Burnaby location will be able to provide other programming for seniors, newcomers and families in the north as it does in the south. 

“We refer to ourselves as neighbours supporting neighbours. It’s about the whole continuum of support that somebody might need or want to build connections in our community. I’m sure that you’re aware that we’ve been hearing a lot about isolation and the negative impacts of isolation. I like to say that neighbourhood houses have been talking about isolation since before it was cool,” Barwich said. 

She gave an example of two seniors who became friends through programs at BNH and how when one of them had a bedbug infestation in his home, his friend offered him a place to stay while pest control services dealt with the issue. 

“It’s really what neighbourhood houses are built around. They’re built around this understanding that as people make connections in their communities and build relationships with their neighbours and give back to their communities, it leads to more resilient neighbourhoods, it leads to people experiencing less loneliness, leads to people feeling valued, leads to better health outcomes. It leads to people having someone to turn to when they need someone to turn to,” she said.

This piece was made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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