The free meal programs operated by the Salvation Army Gateway of Hope shelter in Langley City are being squeezed by a combination of higher food prices and increased demand.
“It’s a double whammy for us,” said Gateway executive director Jim Coggles.
Coggles said the average weekly food bill for Gateway has gone up from roughly $2,000 a week to $2,500, forcing them to temporarily cut some vegetables from the menu.
Fresh produce prices in Canada started rising after Christmas, the result of a four-year drought in California and the falling Canadian dollar.
Statistics Canada reported the Consumer Price Index for food rose 3.4 per cent from November 2014 to November 2015.
That average increase included a six per cent hike in meat prices, a 10 per cent hike for fresh fruit and 11 per cent hike to fresh vegetable prices.
Gateway had to suspend using celery in soup after the price of the product went from $20 to $80 a case.
“It (the price of celery) just got crazy for a time,” Coggles said.
The shelter is now using four food suppliers instead of one in a bid to keep costs down.
“We spend more time shopping,” Coggles said.
“It’s really about trying to stretch the budget.”
While the menu has been adjusted to help cope with the higher costs, Gateway is still providing complete, nutritious meals to people in need at a cost of about $3.25 per person, Coggles said.
“We will never turn anyone away,” Coggles said.
“This is the only real solid meal (some are) going to get.”
Coggles wants prospective donors to know about the “Food Donor Encouragement Act” of B.C, which makes it easier for donors to provide food by declaring a person “who donates food, or who distributes donated food, to another person is not liable for (legal) damages (with a few exceptions).”
That, Coggles hopes, will make it easier to attract more “big two” categories of food donations, protein and produce.
“What we’re trying to do is ensure no food goes to waste,” Coggles said.
Anyone interested in making donations of food or money to help Gateway with its food costs can call them at 604-514-7375 and ask for the food services manager.
The Gateway of Hope website notes that it serves three meals a day to shelter guests and one meal a day to the public.
The facility at 5787 Langley Bypass has 32 beds in its emergency shelter, 25 in its transitional housing program, as well as up to 30 additional mats during extreme weather and over 25 other programs and services.