In January 2022, inflation reached its highest level since September 1991, surpassing five per cent according to Statistics Canada. The jump in food, transportation, and housing costs have left community members struggling.
Compared to March 2021, the cost of food has increased by 7.7 per cent, the cost of energy rose more than 27 per cent, and transportation costs rose by more than 11 per cent in just one year.
These unprecedented increases have hit low- or single-income households particularly hard.
“The budgets that are already stretched to the maximum run out before the days of the month do,” says Kelly Bickford, manager of community and school based programs at e4c, a non-profit that works to support vulnerable people and eliminate poverty.
Bickford says there has been a drastic increase in the number of people asking for help with utility payments at e4c, and e4c’s school nutrition program has similarly seen an increase in children using the program.
“Those are the [expenses] that you can flex on,” adds Bickford — food and utility costs. “You can’t not pay your rent.”
People shouldn’t have to choose between paying their rent or paying for groceries, or between eating or feeding their children, but it still happens. “These are the tough choices that people are facing… that people don’t really get a glimpse into,” says Bickford, “and I don’t think any of us would ever wish that on someone.”
At Edmonton’s Food Bank, Tamisan Bencz-Knight, manager of strategic relationships and partnerships, says that the organization is seeing similar surges in people accessing their services. In March 2022 alone, they helped over 32,000 people.
“I’ve been around since 1980, and [the numbers] have never been that high in our entire existence, even when interest rates went through the roof in the ‘80s,” says Bencz-Knight.
Bencz-Knight notes that inflation is affecting the Food Bank’s bottom line too, since they are paying more for food and transportation. In 2021 alone, Bencz-Knight says they travelled over 180,000 kilometres in the city picking up and delivering food, which will rack up considerable costs with the price of gas this year.
But although inflation is rising and prices continue to increase, income isn’t rising to match. Wages only increased by an average of 2.4 per cent while inflation rose over five per cent, according to a January 2022 Labour Force Survey. This means that wages aren’t increasing fast enough to keep up with purchasing costs.
This has led community members to get creative to stretch their dollar. Rachael Robertson uses apps like Flipp and Flashfood to save money, and she purchases her meat at Flashfood. “Whatever is 50 per cent off is what we eat that week, and sometimes it’s bizarre like duck legs,” says Robertson.
Melanie Greenfield, another community resident, shops for non-perishable items in bulk when they’re on sale, which helps cut costs considerably. “I also grow a food garden and can [preserve] what I am able to, cook in bulk and freeze [or] can some, and try to use everything I own until it falls apart or can’t be fixed.”
Greenfield adds that bartering can be a great way to cut costs. Greenfield painted and installed shelves for her massage therapist in exchange for five free massage sessions. “I think we’re going to see a lot more of that sort of thing coming back now,” says Greenfield.
Jacque Richardson says she has been making more meals from scratch at home. “We have an Instant Pot and can make amazing yogurt for a fraction of the price of store bought,” she says. Richardson says that she only buys meat when it’s cheap and has started cooking more vegetarian meals.
The challenges of inflation aren’t easily solved, and they can lead to food insecurity, mental health crises, and increased poverty.
But organizations like Edmonton’s Food Bank and e4c provide valuable supports to the community. The variety of programs that e4c offers, including Empower U, You Can Benefit, and Make Tax Time Pay, are all there to help.
“[Inflation] is outside of our control,” says Bencz-Knight. “We’re all little small fish in the big sea trying to just do the best we can to support each other.”
But even so, continues Bencz-Knight, “Edmontonians will step up and support us if we need them.”