Food for Thought

Many people in our communities experience financial barriers to getting enough to eat, and there is no better time to remind oneself of this fact than the holiday season. A time when many of us repeatedly gorge ourselves on large feasts, the holidays can also be a period to reflect on those out there, even in our own backyard, who don’t have enough to eat.


At bc211 we are reminded of the need for food in the Lower Mainland on a daily basis. Our database currently has 149 resources in or around the Lower Mainland offering meals or snacks, as well as 100 resources offering free groceries (such as food banks).Free Grocery by Community chart

Free Meals by Community chartWe normally receive about 30 calls per week regarding needs around food, which is substantial. But November was a particularly busy time for food calls at 211. From an overall volume of just over 4,000 calls nearly 4% of were regarding food. This amounted to just under five calls per day, or about 35 per week. It doesn’t count a further 40-odd people per week who visited the Red Book Online and searched for resources relating to food.


We gather enough caller information on 211 to track trends while respecting our callers’ privacy and confidentiality. We use this information to gain a better idea of who our callers are, how their needs are being met, and how better to meet those needs. So who were these callers, and where did they call us from?

• 57% of those who called us in November regarding food needs were female.
• 7% were seniors.
• 84% phoned from either Vancouver (48%), Surrey (15%), Burnaby (10%), New Westminster (7%), or Langley (4%).
• New Westminster was the source of most calls per population.

Food Calls per 10K Res chartFood Banks BC estimates that one third of the people helped by its services are children. So while it is typically adults that phone us, we can assume that many of the callers on 211 are phoning not just for themselves but for younger family members. Remember that a single caller to 211 often represents multiple lives touched by the issue at hand.


88% of these callers phoning about food received referrals, rather than just information. This is quite high, as the percentage for all callers in November was 71%. So who did we refer these callers to? The agency that we referred the most callers to was the Salvation Army, which provides food programs across the Lower Mainland. 31% of food callers were referred to the Salvation Army. After that 17% were referred to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank, 15% to Union Gospel Mission, 9% to Quest Food Exchange and 8% to the Surrey Food Bank Society.

Each of these agencies does amazing work around hunger in the Lower Mainland. If you consider that the dozens of callers we refer to them each week is just a fraction of their client base, you can imagine how massive their task is to provide food to those in need.Percentage of food callers referred chart


As an information hub for social services, we at bc211 feel it is important to convey the information we gather on important social issues in order to spread awareness and in even a small way make gains for social change. We present this data as a reminder that hunger still exists in our communities, but also as a call to action: everyone can help with this issue.


Contact your local food bank or food program. Organizations that provide free food are often in need of donations, volunteers, and other kinds of support. Call 2-1-1 or search the Red Book Online (try searching on “food“) to find out the organizations working in your area.

Consider the issues around why people don’t get enough food. What are the contributing factors? Why does BC consistently rate at the bottom of the list for child poverty in Canada? And why is BC one of just two provinces in Canada without a poverty reduction plan in place? Get informed. Advocate locally. Contact your MLA.

So as we move into another holiday season, remember to rejoice in seasonal cheer and enjoyment, but also give a thought to those in our communities for whom the season might be one of hardship and financial difficulty. And pay tribute to that thought: support your local food bank, free meal service, or poverty reduction initiative.