Food bank users increase with struggling economy

With Albertans still toiling to overcome the hardships of a downtrodden economy, food banks have seen heavy use.

BARE SHELVES - Millet Food Bank manager Debbie Herman shows the bare spots on shelves where items such as condiments are really lacking. Other food items such as Kraft Dinner and Ichiban are always in high supply.

With Albertans still toiling to overcome the hardships of a downtrodden economy, food banks have seen an influx of users over the past few months.

Leduc and Area Food Bank

Leduc and Area Food Bank executive director Gert Reynar says the food bank is seeing a 25 to 50 per cent increase over the average in the number of hampers given out each month.

“We’ve already superseded what we gave out last month,” said Reynar. She explained more food hampers were given out within about the first six days of July than what all of June saw.

Each month the Leduc and Area Food Bank hands out between 100 and 150 food hampers, on average, which totals approximately 25,000 pounds of food. “That’s average for the whole year, monthly,” said Reynar.

At the beginning of the summer Coldwell Banker held its annual food drive for the food bank and brought in 12,000 pounds of food. “So if you do the math . . . it’s about half a month’s worth,” said Reynar.

Reynar says many of the people now accessing the food bank are those who moved to the area within the last few months and have recently lost jobs. She believes they need the support because of the moving expenses on top of everything else.

Those seeking employment insurance (EI) are also having to look to the food bank. “EI is always a big one,” said Reynar.

She says, with the federal government taking up to six weeks to get people their money, individuals are having to max out credit cards and seek other channels for funds in order to subsidize their living while waiting on the social program.

On average the food bank operates with the help of 40 to 50 volunteers. Those looking to get involved can contact the food bank. “And we’re always looking for drivers,” said Reynar.

At this time of year Reynar says the food bank is looking for “anything and everything” when it comes to donations but items with high protein, such as canned soups with meat, are a just one healthy and appreciated option.

Millet Food Bank

Between the months of March and June the Millet Food Bank has almost seen a doubling in those needing its services.

“We were averaging four hampers a month,” said Manager Debbie Herman. “We went up to six hampers in March, 10 in April, six again in May and 10 in June,” she added.

She has noticed most people coming in those months were new to the Millet Food Bank. Herman says those whose job have slowed down or dried up, or those who recently moved to the area to try and cut living expenses are many who need the extra support.

“(The) move and the extra expenses create the need to come to the food bank,” said Herman.

Between March and June the Millet Food Bank fed 52 adults and 27 children.

As of July 23 the food bank had only given out three hampers.

With rising food prices people are also less likely to donate to food banks. However, Herman says summers are generally slow anyway. “Everybody thinks of food banks at holiday time.”

“I’ve accessed food from Alberta Food Banks twice. Its a food-share program,” she added.

With the upcoming Millet Harvest Festival Herman says the food bank is really pushing for a food and funds collection.

“We need money just as much as we need food, that way we can buy the things we need. And we have expenses,” Herman explained.

Since the food bank has no means to store fresh food it pre-purchases milk, meat and eggs and uses a coupon system that people can take to the grocery store. “But with the price of beef skyrocketing we certainly need that money.”

Herman praised Colin and Nora Kerr, who recently donated enough to allow the food bank to purchase 40 cartons of milk.

With the funds, the food bank can also look into getting healthier options as much of what is donated to food banks is the popular Kraft Dinner or Ichiban.

Herman also wants to be able to purchase hamper staples including sugar, flour, and condiments; items people would not normally think to donate such as mayo or coffee, says Herman.

Hygiene items such as toothbrushes are also needed. “If people are on a tight grocery budget it still means they’re going to struggle to buy those necessities,” said Herman.

Other items the food bank is in need of include canned fruit and vegetables, quick oats, brown beans, juice boxes, cookies and assorted crackers.

During the Harvest Festival the Millet Food Bank is going to host a “Help Us Dunk Hunger” campaign.

During the Aug. 21 town appreciation barbecue a dunk tank will be set up, it will also be set at the trade show following the Aug. 22 parade. During  parade food bank volunteers will walk the route with carts for a food and fund collection.

Wetaskiwin Salvation Army Food Bank

The Wetaskiwin Salvation Army Food Bank has seen an increase of users post-Februrary/March and donations have decreased.

“And what’s on the shelf is what’s on the shelf,” said family services director Linda Ortlauf. The food bank has no stockpile in a back room.

Recent donations are waning in the wake of rising food prices. “You can’t walk into a grocery store without a $50 bill right now,” said Ortlauf.

However, she put out a call to the community for help and it was well received. “The community really rallied and it restocked our shelves.”

Ortlauf says many families who are coming to the food bank are those in the working class. “People who originally thought they had well paying jobs can’t seem to make it work.”

“Donators are now going ‘man I hate to come back here but I need help’,” she added.

The Wetaskiwin Salvation Army Food Bank uses a once a month hamper system, “enough to last them two or three days in a pinch,” Ortlauf explained.

Early this year the food bank was servicing approximately 40 to 50 families but that number is now closer to 60 or 70. Ortlauf says the food bank is giving out the same amount of food but less per hamper.

“We never have enough dairy of any sort,” said Ortlauf. “And of course fresh stuff, I’m hoping peoples’ gardens are good this year and they have extra.”

“And one of the things we can’t keep up with is school lunch items,” she added.

 

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