High cost of utilities forcing more people to rely on the food bank

For many Central Alberta families, the extended winter is more than just an inconvenience — it has made just feeding everyone difficult. The Red Deer Food Bank is seeing an unusually high number of people relying on their services right now, with the main issue being the cost of utilities.

For many Central Alberta families, the extended winter is more than just an inconvenience — it has made just feeding everyone difficult.

The Red Deer Food Bank is seeing an unusually high number of people relying on their services right now, with the main issue being the cost of utilities.

“With this winter, there is a price to pay,” said food bank executive director Fred Scaife. “We keep track of the various reasons why they don’t have enough money to get by, and the answer we get more often than not right now is: ‘My utility bills are way higher than they’ve ever been before.’ ”

According to Scaife, the food bank usually provides food for approximately 1,400 people per month at this time of the year, but right now they are at about 1,700. Due to the higher than normal demand, the food bank has had to dip into their long-term supplies about a month ahead of when they usually do.

This is also a tough time of the year for donations. After their big push through the winter, people’s minds, understandably, wander to the upcoming spring and summer.

Scaife says there are no concerns about running out of food, but they may end up having to purchase more food sooner than they normally would.

“These supplies usually last us through July and August,” said Scaife. “I know things we don’t get donated very often like canned fish, canned meat, canned fruit, that’s going to be burnt off pretty quick.”

The food bank serves more than just Red Deer — it works in conjunction with 18 smaller food banks over a 22,000-square-km area throughout Central Alberta, as well as with other not-for-profit food charities like soup kitchens and Loaves and Fishes.

In a year, the bank distributes about $2 million worth of food, 80 per cent of which comes from direct donations. The other 20 per cent comes from food drives like Extra Helping, which is run by the Real Canadian Superstore and their subsidiaries Extra Foods and No Frills.

Extra Helpings is an annual drive that this year started on Thursday and will run through April 24. Customers are encouraged to donate food in bins set up at each location or through a cash donation at the till.

When trying to figure out what to donate, Scaife says it’s simple — whatever you served last night for supper that came from a box or can.

Cash donations are also greatly sought, as it helps the organization keep up with demands for perishable items like ground beef, milk and margarine.

“It’s a huge success for us,” said Scaife. “Our name drifts off the radar at this time of the year, but when you’re down at Superstore … you’re going to hear about us and I think that’s incredibly important for us, that’s almost as important as getting any kind of donation from them. When a corporate partner like them is willing to mention your name, it’s a huge impact for us.”

jaldrich@bprda.wpengine.com

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