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Metro Vancouver food banks get little attention on municipal campaign trail

The Greater Vancouver Food Bank is charged almost $150,000 annually in property taxes, money the organization's COO says could go to feeding residents.
vancouver food bank
Greater Vancouver Food Bank COO Cynthia Boulter at the Burnaby warehouse on June 7, 2022.

Food banks across Metro Vancouver have received varying degrees of attention from municipal council candidates, with Richmond and Vancouver food bank directors noting few candidates have heeded to the rapidly rising need for their services.

Greater Vancouver Food Bank chief operating officer Cynthia Boulter says she appreciated a visit from mayoral candidate and sitting councillor Colleen Hardwick but has otherwise not heard from any other candidates.

The bank provides assistance to approximately 13,000 individuals monthly across Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster and the North Shore.

“We are setting records each month unfortunately; we have registered about 1,000 new clients each month in June, July and August,” Boulter told Glacier Media.

Boulter raised concerns with Hardwick that the food bank’s Vancouver distribution location is charged nearly $150,000 in property taxes annually — money that could otherwise go to feeding low-income residents.

“Given that many churches receive an exemption, our thought is that food isn’t any less important than faith in terms of a community’s welfare and survival,” stated Boulter.

City of Vancouver staff have explained food banks don’t fall under permissive property tax exemptions under the Vancouver Charter.

“We have not been able to set up a meeting with city hall to discuss the [food bank’s] needs for a new building in Vancouver, despite the fact that 62 per cent of our new and existing clients live in Vancouver,” noted Boulter.

South of Vancouver, Hajira Hussain, executive director of the Richmond Food Bank, says she is “not busy meeting any of the candidates,” despite how “things are busier than ever before, serving over 2,000 individuals on a weekly basis and the need continues to grow.

"Food security," said Hussain, "doesn’t seem to be a priority on most candidates’ list.

"Affordable housing was, which if addressed, may help alleviate food insecurity in our community. Many people are paying more than half of their incomes on rent and after paying off the non-discretionary bills, there is hardly anything left for a discretionary expense like food and therefore the higher numbers at our food bank. It's all related," she said via email.

"Other than a couple school trustee candidates, no other candidate has approached me or the food bank," she added

Hussain told Glacier Media the bank is seeing more Ukrainian refugees and international students in particular.

Glacier Media was unable to speak to the Surrey Food Bank, although in August the Safe Surrey Coalition visited the facility for a fundraiser and Surrey First participated in a Thanksgiving food drive in September, according to their Facebook pages.

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