The recession has driven up the number of people seeking help at a Halifax food bank by 20 per cent, but that’s been matched by a rise in donations.

Last September, Dianne Swinemar of Feed Nova Scotia issued an SOS as the warehouse emptied out.

“We had a phenomenal fall/Christmas season. Every food drive broke records,” she said, adding that fundraising was strong, too. “This year … each of our agencies is getting a full order.”

Feed Nova Scotia helps 40,000 people each month, with more than half of them coming from HRM.

A recent visitor had been laid off and couldn’t weather the six-week wait for an EI cheque to feed her family, so she found herself at a food bank for the first time. That’s typical, Swinemar said.

“There was a downsize in the economy and people were hurting, but when you and I had to tighten our purse strings, people became even more aware of what those on fixed incomes would be challenged with,” she said.

Wayne MacNaughton became homeless in the 1990s when health problems made finding work difficult. As his money dried up, so did the shelter he could afford. Today, he lives in an affordable housing complex and works for Community Action on Homelessness. He spoke to Metro yesterday at the opening of an affordable housing building on Maynard Street.

“We’ve had a growing homeless problem in Halifax for quite some time, and maybe it’s just appearing a little more now with the recession,” he said. Capacity at shelters is a huge problem, with nightly waiting lists forcing people onto the streets.

MacNaughton said he blames years of funding neglect. He’s hopeful for the new NDP government, but said its recent budget should have put more into social assistance.

“A few million more and they could have increased (monthly social assistance) by $26, instead of $6,” he said. “This is a very urgent issue and it’s not something we need to do a lot more studying on.”

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