As food prices rise, some Canadians juggle feeding themselves and supporting their families abroad

Once a month, Ottawa resident Bellanov Macaen sends a money order of about $100 to his father Bernold, a bookseller in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Gang violence is rampant there, making it almost impossible for Bernold to travel and open his bookstore for fear of being extorted, kidnapped, or killed. Without the money sent by his children, Macaen in Canada and another son in France, survival would be almost impossible.

But for Macaen, holding on to that lifeline is becoming increasingly difficult. in recent months, Canadian food prices in June have soared 8.8 percent compared to June of last year, but her family’s grocery bills have nearly doubled to about $700 a month from their pre-pandemic average of $400. Healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, rice and some meat, her preferred diet, are particularly expensive.

Meanwhile, food prices in Haiti have soared by a staggering 26 percent this year. The country relies heavily on imported grain, which has become more expensive due to the war in Ukraine and droughts in North America last year. The violence has also pushed up prices, with gangs extorting a tax from trucks bringing food into the country.

The last time Macaen was in Haiti, in 2018, he paid about $3 to feed three people a meal of spaghetti. Now, she says it would cost her twice as much to pay for the same meal. High food prices in both countries have forced Macaen to find a “difficult” balance between feeding his father and feeding himself.

“Considering what my father did for me and the sacrifices that man made,” Macean paused, “not ideal. I wouldn’t sign up, but life happens sometimes.”

Macaen shares your challenge with the more than five million Canadian residents, temporary foreign workers and international students who send money to support family members abroad. Many are essential workers in low-wage jobs — farm workers, hotel keepers, or fast-food clerks — whose relatively small earnings leave them particularly exposed to the impacts of inflation and rising food prices.

Nearly 15 percent of Canadian residents send remittances abroad each year, according to the Global Alliance for Financial Inclusion. About two-thirds of this cash ($18.3 billion in 2018) I went to middle-income countries such as China, India, Mexico, and Jamaica, with the rest split between low-income and wealthy nations. This inflow represents more than a quarter of GDP in some low-income countries.

For most senders, sending money to relatives abroad is a “must,” not an option, said Ilhan Saydna, community engagement coordinator for Toronto’s Daily Bread Food Bank. Depending on the country, local wages may not be high enough to cover the cost of living, or high unemployment makes it difficult to find work. In countries with a lot of gang violence, Migrant workers may also have to pay extortion fees to keep their family members safe.

According to Canada Statistics, senders sent an average of $2,855 to relatives abroad in 2018. That’s a lot of money to send home: Even before recent inflation, many senders relied on multiple jobs and cut costs in Canada to keep relatives out of the country. country. Add in higher food prices in Canada and beyond, and some of these workers are having a hard time eating.

The food bank has become a “very popular place” in recent months, Saydna said. His organization received more than 170,000 visits last July, compared to just 60,000 in July 2021. It does not keep track of how many of these people send remittances abroad due to concerns that donors will disapprove and cut off funds for the food bank.

Nearly 15 percent of Canadian residents send money to relatives abroad each year. Rising food prices make it harder to send home enough food.

Community groups further west have also been busier than usual. Jun Carayacun has worked at the Banff Fairmont Hotel since he arrived in Canada in 2013. He is the force behind the Philippine Organization in the Rocky Mountains, a Banff-based community group. Since 2021, the organization has delivered boxes full of rice, sardines, Filipino vegetables and other items to Filipinos struggling to buy food in the region.

Byron Cruz, a social worker with the Vancouver-based migrant worker organization Sanctuary Health, said a similar situation is playing out on the Lower Mainland. The high cost of necessities is forcing some refugees, undocumented immigrants and seasonal farmworkers to rely on your organization for food so they can keep sending money home to support their families or protect them from violence. The group has seen increased demand in recent years due to the pandemic and higher food prices.

Back in Ottawa, Macaen waits for Canadian food prices to start to stabilize. He is due to start a college program this fall, which means he won’t be able to send his father as much money as he used to. He can only hope that his family stays safe.

“My worst nightmare is waking up and getting a call,” he said.

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