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‘Ski bum’ ‘free ride’ accusations spark B.C. food bank access debate

As demand increases, Revelstoke charity deals with questions over who should be using its services
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The Revelstoke Food Bank recently came under fire from social media criticism regarding eligibility and what some people are calling an abuse of the food bank’s resources.

“Food bank poachers! To all those who are coming to Revy for the winter to live the ski bum life, the local food bank is not a free ride for you. This food bank is there because people have little to no choice to got [sic] here. You choose to be here so own it and stop leaching off our good will,” stated a post on a community Facebook page.

The post has since been deleted from the group, but the questions that were raised echo through the community and other posts have surfaced, discussing the issue.

Sheena Wells, executive director of Community Connections Revelstoke Society which operates the service, told the Review some comments were disturbing.

“Coming into the office this morning, after having lost a little bit of sleep myself about it, people were nervous,” said Wells.

Food security in town and across the country is a concerning issue, she explained, and to say that more people are hungry would be putting it mildly.

The Hungercount report is published annually by Food Banks Canada. It incorporates a host of statistics gathered from all over Canada to give an accurate picture of how well the country is feeding its residents. In March 2022, more than 1.4 million people –roughly the population of Manitoba– visited a Canadian food bank, marking a 15 per cent increase in usage from the year before.

In October, the Revelstoke Food Bank had a similarly higher demand with more than 1,000 visitors throughout the month. The food bank is also up about 40 more registrants from last year.

To make matters worse, Wells acknowledged that despite the higher demand for food bank services, the group doesn’t actually have a greater supply.

This year’s Emergency Services Food Drive brought in fewer donations than last year.

The causes for the increase in food bank usage are varied. In addition to its Hungercount, Food Banks Canada also issued a report card for each province outlining where the shortfalls are that contribute to a lack of food security. B.C. received a barely passing D+, and the report outlined what contributed to its grade. Food Banks Canada blamed an ‘impossible housing market’ as the first main factor, noting that nearly 40 per cent of respondents spent more than 30 per cent of their monthly income on housing — a reality that many Revelstokians face.

Another contributing factor was the cost of living. Living Wage for Families BC released a report this year saying that the cost of living in Revelstoke has gone up from $23.70/hour to $24.60/hour this year.

“There’s less money for staffing, there’s less money for food purchasing, and there’s less food being donated. So, it’s not a great scenario to be in,” said Wells.

Pointing to the statistics that show increased food bank usage across the country, Wells said “not every community is seeing this as a seasonal employee, resort municipality, issue.”

“This is just a local narrative that we need to work to resolve,” she said.

Dismissing some of the users as ‘ski bums’ is a problem because it can make people concerned about being seen there, she added.

In drawing attention to specific users and singling them out, it undermines the efforts made by the food bank to uphold people’s privacy, which can prevent those who need to use the program from doing so.

“Those public commentary posts do contribute to that stigma and can be a barrier for people to feel safe to access support of any kind,” she said.

Wells said the food bank tries to alleviate some of those issues by varying pickup times and instituting longer opening hours. Users can even call ahead before pickup.

There is an intake form that helps the food bank understand the demographic of its users.

“We do not need-test. And that has sort of long been moved away from as a practice, especially modernizing best practices and dignity in a safe space.”

What a food bank client wears, or drives, is irrelevant, said Wells.

The food bank has a $150,000 fundraising goal for 2023, and so far has reached abut $60,000. Donations to the food bank can be made on its website and in-person at the centre.

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Zach Delaney

About the Author: Zach Delaney

I came to the Revelstoke Review from Ottawa, Ontario, where I earned a Master of Journalism degree from Carleton University.
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