It’s an annual meal for many — turkey with all the fixins’ — and at shelters in Windsor, Ont., it’s a meal that organizers had to expertly plan for this year as food costs more and donations are down.
With inflation currently at 6.9 per cent, food, housing and energy prices are making it more difficult to stretch a dollar.
It means your annual turkey dinner is costing more this year — fresh and frozen poultry prices have jumped and fresh vegetables including potatoes cost about 11 per cent more than they did in 2021.
The higher prices have meant those feeding some of Windsor’s most vulnerable are working extra hard to bring their annual Christmas meals together on a budget.
“We’re feeding — mainly everybody, and people that have families because some of them can’t afford Christmas dinner,” said Anthony Nelson, manager and board of director at Street Help on Wyandotte Street East.
The organization is expecting to serve as many as 400 meals on Christmas and Boxing Day, and is offering a gift program for kids as more families have been using the services.
While busily chopping onions for the lunch rush, Nelson and seven-year volunteer Paul Daigle said they’re thankful for those who donate to Street Help — and those who have had to do extra shopping to find the right prices to put on the holiday meal .
“The best thing about it is they are definitely looking everywhere, right,” said Nelson, of the volunteer shoppers. “They’re going to Costco, they’re going to [FreshCo], Food Basics. They’re getting what they need to.”
Short on hands
The organization is also short on extra hands to help.
“We would really appreciate if people came out to help volunteer for Christmas because that’s a big day and, you know, we want everyone to be happy,” Nelson said. “So the more help we have, the more food we can dish out.”
Over at the Downtown Mission, staff and volunteers are planning their yearly Christmas meal, which they’ve also had to plan on a budget.
“Prices have really, really gone up and so that affects what we get through the door as donations because people have to focus on their own groceries,” said Laurie Musson, director of food services.
“We aren’t getting as many donations, we’ve seen our shelves get pretty empty.”
Musson says the organization is seeing many more students, seniors and families using their services this year. They’re seeing 100 families a day, up from about 75 in previous years.
“The need is always there and it’s getting to be bigger and bigger,” she said.
WATCH | Why donations are low and need is high:
Like Street Help, the mission is getting by on their regular donations, which are also coming in later than usual this year. Musson says they usually start to pour in around October, but staff are only now seeing a rush of donations that usually last the organization throughout the year.
“People are buying their own groceries, right? And if your bills are going up, you can’t afford to donate as much,” she said.
With food prices expected to rise into 2023, Musson worries about what’s ahead.
“I don’t know where we’re going to go next year,” she said. “Everything is so unpredictable right now with the cost of everything going up gas, hydro, food.”
Tips to help you save
Rafe Hanna is the head chef at UHC Hub of Opportunities, and he just finished preparing more than 400 holiday meals for people in the community—some that will be served hot and some that are frozen.
Ge offered some really easy tips to save on groceries this year, saying it all starts with how you shop.
“For example, for this year the turkeys — instead of buying the whole turkeys we ended up just getting the turkey breasts,” he said. “So save a little bit of labor cost and you know a lot of waste from the bones, the weight.”
While turkey is usually on the menus for the holidays, Hanna suggest buying chickens instead which can be smaller and less expensive.
Or, go a non-traditional route and try a meatloaf instead.
“When you’re shopping at the grocery shop, just look for items that may be on sale, kind of price-match what’s in season,” Hanna said.
“Go in and look at what’s what’s in season… So asparagus is usually affordable in the summertime, not so much in the winter, but you know, in in the winter time I’ll go for like fresh green beans instead of asparagus , look for broccoli instead of cauliflower because I know cauliflower is a ridiculously high price.”
Having pantry staples like pasta, onions, garlic, and canned goods can ensure healthy and affordable meals on the daily, says Hanna.
“Learning new recipes and new ways of cooking them — it could be fun in the kitchen too, right?” he said. “So it could be really fun using those humble healthy ingredients turning it into something really good.”
Sounds of the Season is CBC Windsor’s annual fundraiser in support of the Windsor-Essex Food Bank Association. It’s also a chance to take a closer look at the reasons people in our city are in need, and the steps being taken to help them.
Donate to the Windsor-Essex Food Bank Association now!