SUMMERSIDE — As she places a lone bottle of peanut butter on the empty shelf, Karen Mallett looks discouraged.
The shelf resembles many at the Summerside Salvation Army’s food bank.
Empty shelves are not uncommon at East Prince’s lone food bank, which relies largely on donations from the public.
But this summer, the situation has worsened, with donations not meeting demand.
It forced the organization to dig deep into its coffers — money that could be used for its other programs — to almost weekly purchase food to help those in need.
“I have been purchasing groceries, off and on, all summer,” said Mallett, adding an average of $1,000 to $3,000 is spent each trip. “The same thing happened last year. Out of sight, out of mind. People are at their cottages and just don’t think about it.”
And with the start of the school year start approaching, the Salvation Army’s community and family services co-ordinator is worried.
Families already struggling to buy food will need school-lunch items — granola bars, cheese and crackers, juice boxes, puddings — all the things necessary to nourish a child and get them through a day of learning.
“We’re in a real bind,” said Mallett, adding that things like sandwich meats, cheese spread, peanut butter and jams are also needed to supplement school lunches. “Those things are what we are running extremely low on.”
She’s been minimizing the number of shopping trips necessary by buying in bulk and stocking up on sale items.
But with the food bank giving out almost 30 food hampers each of the three days — Monday, Wednesday and Friday — it’s open, the supplies quickly dwindle.
“The cash on hand comes from private donations, the thrift store,” said Mallett.
Potatoes are running low. There’s little pasta and pasta sauce. The cereal shelves are almost bare, as are the shelves where there would be canned meats and fish. There’s little soup, canned fruit and vegetables and crackers.
“We’re running low on just about everything,” said Mallett.
Families get a hamper, containing enough food for three to five days, once a month.
But, there are some whose situation is so dire that there is no choice but to provide additional help before the 30 days are up, said Mallett.
“Most people are living paycheque to paycheque.”
Supplies from the food bank are also used in the adjacent soup kitchen, which operates five days a week providing a hot lunch to those in need.
Usage is up there as well, with 50 to 60 lunches served daily, up from 40 to 45 earlier in the year.
For many, it’s the only meal they will have all day, which is why day-old bread donated from local stores is bagged up and handed out each day.
“That’s what probably keeps some of them going until the next day,” said Mallett.
Increasing food costs, coupled with higher electric and heating bills, which some clients are still trying to pay off, have forced many to visit the food bank.
Some are regulars, while others haven’t been there for years or at all.
Pet food, shampoo, soap, feminine hygiene products, toilet paper, diapers and wipes are also in high demand, things that are also in short supply.
“There was two ladies and a child here the other day that were stuck here in a motor home and they were just staying where they could and coming in every day for lunch,” said Mallett. “We were giving them baby food and formula to get them through and diapers.”
With the next food drive almost two months away, the hope is the public plea for help will result in more donations.