Volunteer hands out bags of produce to people waiting in line at the Terrace Churches Food Bank on March 15. (Photo Brittany Gervais)

Volunteer hands out bags of produce to people waiting in line at the Terrace Churches Food Bank on March 15. (Photo Brittany Gervais)

More seniors in Terrace area struggling to afford food

The number of adults who used the Terrace Churches Food Bank jumped by 70 per cent from last year.

A combination of rising inflation rates and higher taxes have been steadily increasing the price of living for residents in northwest B.C., hitting seniors especially hard.

According to a 2018 hunger count survey conducted by the Terrace Churches Food Bank, more senior residents in the city are using their local food bank than any other adult group. The Terrace Churches Food Bank serves communities as far as Rosswood and assists 558 households per month on average.

“Every other number has come down since 2017,” said Matthew Kawei, secretary at the Terrace Food Bank, who put together the results of the survey. He said the number of adults between 18 to 30 years old, and 45 to 64 years old, have both decreased from last year because of demographic changes.

“But this is the highest number of adults over 65 that I have seen yet,” Kawei said.

While the numbers are high, Kawei added they may not be rising, but that one group of about 40 people have aged into a new category.

“The [overall] numbers are staying intact, just coming in again a year later,” he said.

Between March 12-15 2018, close to 30 per cent (191 out of 658) of adults who filled out the survey were over the age of 65. That’s a 70 per cent jump from last year’s count – 57 seniors out of 678 adults.

“We love to see that the numbers are going down, because that means for us that those people are participating in employment or have a job,” he said. “But if we see a number going up, that tells us that there are a lot of people looking for jobs or the prices for things have gone drastically up.”

According to the latest data from Statistics Canada, employment rates in Terrace have been consistently hovering around 61 to 62.3 per cent. The unemployment rate has fluctuated in comparison – it started declining in 2011 to 7.8 per cent before rising back up to 10.4 per cent in 2016.

But while Kawei said he feels employment numbers have stayed fairly consistent since 2013, the cost of living in the province has gone up dramatically. British Columbia’s annual inflation rate jumped to 2.8 per cent in February according to Statistics Canada.

READ MORE: Annual inflation rate rises to 2.2% for its fastest pace since fall 2014

“Even though you are getting the same amount of money in the same year the ability to pay your bills now comes into question,” Kawei said over the phone.

The Salvation Army in Terrace also submits their own annual hunger count each year even though they don’t operate under the Food Banks Canada umbrella. Their count occurs at the same time as the Terrace Churches Food Bank in March, but Jim VanderHeyden, captain at The Salvation Army, said they do not share the hunger count information with each other.

While the data is still being compiled, VanderHeyden said he can testify to senior client concerns about their ability to afford their bills and pay for groceries.

“I think that’s an ongoing thing, they have to use the food bank or else they can’t get by, ” VanderHeyden, 56, said over the phone.

“People don’t see [seniors] at home when their fridges are getting empty, and I don’t see a lot of people advocating for them.”

On March 22, Judith Haizimsque sat down for an $8 three-course lunch at the Happy Gang Centre with her friend of two years, 47-year old Joanne Rochon.

The 61-year old has today marked on her calendar, which is filed inside a six-ring pocketbook. She highlights and stars events that are important to remember each day of the week, including the Handy Dart schedule, two outstanding bills and other written reminders about food shares in the city.

“My mind is all scattered because there are resources all over town,” Haizimsque said. “Some places you have to get to early so you can get the good food.”

Haizimsque, from the Kitwanga Nation, is able to get the cost of her medications covered through Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB), a program that covers the cost of MSP premiums and basic healthcare for First Nations residents.

However, she said the $670 monthly cost of her one-bedroom suite and other expenses like utilities, phone service, dental work and optometry have been difficult to balance as prices go up. She said she is currently behind on her BC Hydro and phone bill collection payments and feels stuck paying a monthly rent she can’t afford.

As she gets closer to 65, Haizimsque said she is concerned about how her life will look without possible employment – even though she has a Bachelor of social work degree and years of experience.

“I only have four more years in the workforce so that concerns me,” Haizimsque said. “I know I could still work, but I’ve been battling with depression so I haven’t been in the field at all. So there goes my career.”

Haizimsque puts together a weekly schedule to remind herself of when and where various food shares are offered weekly in Terrace. Without these programs, she said she would have to make the decision whether or not to buy food or pay her monthly rent on time.

She said she has already put off going to necessary dental and optometry appointments because of financial concerns, and hasn’t been able to buy new prescription glasses for the last five years.

“I know I’m due for that now, I know I am. I just have to sacrifice my eyes for the time being,” she said.

“I don’t know what to expect when I’m 65. I’m not travelling anywhere, I’m just staying home,” Haizsimsque said, sombrely. “I’m just going to be another stat, I think.”

The 70 per cent jump in the number of seniors using the Terrace Churches Food Bank is significant, and could mean the organization has to do more to engage older members of the community, Kawei said. Not just for people over the age of 65 but for others who fit into the 45-to-64 category right now, like Haizimsque.

“The government should reach out to this demographic and provide opportunities for them. You don’t wait,” Kawei said over the phone.

“Businesses are putting more money into these programs for young people and empowering them, which is really good, but something similar to that needs to happen for elderly people to continue or sustain what they have been doing.”

Kawei said he is putting together a report using the hunger count data to advise Food Bank BC on how to move forward, and expects to have it done by the end of next week.

“There are resources willing to invest in young people that have dreams but you have elderly people who have dreams too,” Kawei said.

“But no one is addressing or advocating for them. There needs to be a change of mindset so these experienced people that have no opportunities in the workforce can pursue dreams of their own.”


 


brittany@terracestandard.com

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Judith Haizimsque, 61, holds up a pocketbook that she fills out every week to remind herself of various food share events, public transportation schedules, and medical appointments in Terrace on March 22. (Photo Brittany Gervais)

Judith Haizimsque, 61, holds up a pocketbook that she fills out every week to remind herself of various food share events, public transportation schedules, and medical appointments in Terrace on March 22. (Photo Brittany Gervais)

61-year old Judith Haizimsque highlights and stars the most important events for her to make that week, which include the $8 lunch offered at the Happy Gang Centre on March 22. (Photo Brittany Gervais)

61-year old Judith Haizimsque highlights and stars the most important events for her to make that week, which include the $8 lunch offered at the Happy Gang Centre on March 22. (Photo Brittany Gervais)