FISH of Vancouver served a record number of households at its downtown food pantry on Wednesday: 203.
The organization was closed on Monday and Tuesday for Christmas, which contributed to the increase, but staff say the unusually long line is reflective of financial strain during the holidays. FISH served 3,072 households during the month of December.
“When the holidays hit, with just all the expenses of trying to feed extra family and trying to put good meals together … it really hits their budget and they have to reach out and come to the pantry for some extra food,” said James Fitzgerald, executive director of FISH (Friends in Service to Humanity). The nonprofit operates a warehouse and food pantry at 906 Harney St.
With inflation, buying gifts was especially hard this year for some. The financial strain of gift-giving may also have contributed to the record, Fitzgerald said.
Many people donated to FISH before the holidays, providing foods such as turkey and stuffing, Fitzgerald said.
Lines at FISH have been growing longer since last spring, he said.
During the pandemic, a boost in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or food stamps, supported people through a time of financial strain for many families. The level of SNAP benefits people were receiving went back to normal in March.
Many people relied on that extra food, Fitzgerald said. Now, they’re going to food pantries to fill in the gaps.
The increase in demand has been causing burnout among staff and volunteers, Fitzgerald said. Many of the people FISH serves are families with children and people experiencing homelessness.
“It is difficult to remain positive and upbeat when you have 200 families — or close to it on lots of days — that are just coming and coming and coming in. It’s hard to kind of recoup and get your emotions in check,” he said.
Yet the volunteers’ compassion persists, Fitzgerald said.
“We aren’t here to judge or to do anything but make their day better,” he said. “So they definitely try to stay upbeat.”
With the increase in families seeking food, FISH needs more volunteers, Fitzgerald said. Even one shift a week for a few hours would help, he said.
“It’s hard to keep the shelves stocked with how many people come in,” he said. “It’s hard to keep up with demand.”
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