The Red Deer Food Bank is expecting to serve a record 20,000 people this year.
The better news though is that the monthly increase in clients slowed down for the first time in months, executive director Fred Scaife said Thursday.
Demand has gone up every month for 16 months in a row. In February, typically one of the busiest months, the amount of increase was around eight per cent over February 2016, he said.
“The increases are decreasing. … We’ve seen ridiculous increases.” In the year over year monthly comparisons, he said they’ve client numbers soar as high as 70 per cent. That was six to eight months ago. “I’ve run out of adjectives to describe this.”
Still, Scaife is projecting that the food bank will serve more than the 18,000 people they helped last year because even though some may be finding work, it’s going to take awhile for them to get back on their feet.
“They continue to be a client long after they’ve returned to work because of the hole they’ve unfortunately dug themselves into.”
He said it is common now to hear from people that their employment insurance has run out and they may be using credit cards to get by.
They’ve had to reformat the process on the fly to deal with more people, quicker, Scaife said. But sometimes he said he feels like they haven’t been able to spend as much time with clients as they have in the past.
“Because when people are in this kind of situation, when they run into somebody that’s actually listening to them and helping them, they tend to open their hearts and they want to talk to you.”
There is a silver lining in the growing need for the food bank, he said. He was sure last year that the food bank would run out of food by June or July. It never did.
“That’s because the community responded just organically to our need.” People from all over the city donated food every day, and the food drives were very successful. “This year I’m hoping the same thing is going to happen.”
The food bank also received almost one million pounds (454,000 kgs) of donated food from grocery stores last year. It is surplus to the businesses’ immediate needs, he said, adding that the main donations are fresh fruit and vegetables, and bread. The food is distributed the same day it is received, after food bank volunteers have gleaned out the best of it.
The value of the food is conservatively estimated at about $2 a pound, he said.