More people are reaching out for help this Christmas, but charities that support them are experiencing a decline in donations.
Barb Barber, executive director of Central Alberta Women’s Outreach, said it’s the first year the agency has been forced to limit the number of single-parent families in its adopt-a-family program.
“It’s been a tough year, not only for families, but tough for people who wanted to sponsor,” Barber said.
“Generally, in other years, we’ve had enough donations and sponsors that we could help those last-minute families. This year, I knew we wouldn’t have that support. That’s why we ended up doing a cutoff.”
This year, there were 210 families, including 453 children, in the program. In 2018, there were about 195 families.
She said Alberta’s lingering economic problems are catching up to more people.
“We are seeing the stress of the economy and the toll it’s taking on families. Not only in the area of domestic violence, but in people’s housing stability,” said Barber, and the outreach agency is looking to develop new support groups to help clients.
Maj. Larry Bridger, with the Salvation Army, also said more families needed Christmas hampers this season and sponsors are down for a second year.
“I think with the economy the way it is, people are struggling all around,” Bridger said.
Both the women’s outreach agency and the Salvation Army said they used resources from their organizations to cover the shortfalls in their Christmas programs.
About 220 families applied for Salvation Army hampers, up from 207 last year, and about 63 senior couples, or individual seniors, applied, compared to 43.
Cash donations to the Salvation Army are also lagging by about $16,000 compared to the same time last year. So far, 50 per cent of its $245,000 goal has been raised through its annual Christmas kettle campaign.
“We’re still hoping we’ll reach that target, but there’s a way to go. The final push is on right now,” said Bridger.
He said more volunteers are still needed on Saturday for 11 community collection kettles, for what is expected to be a busy weekend. Debit/credit card machines are available at the kettles, which are catching on with donors.
“We do appreciate the support we get. We’re able to continue our work only because of the donations we receive. We will certainly keep doing what we can to try and meet the needs of people,” Bridger said.
Teresa Kutynec, president of the Red Deer Christmas Bureau, said people have been generous again this year with toy donations, but cash donations seem to have declined. A tally won’t be known until January.
“Usually, we can go through two or three receipt books, and we’re only working on number two, so I think cash donations are down,” Kutynec said.
Another difference this year is that a lot more large families requested hampers, she said.
“We only did 974 applications this year, which is down, but we have 1,022 kids, so the families are bigger. It’s odd. We’ve never had that before,” Kutynec said.
Alice Kolisnyk, deputy director at the Red Deer Food Bank, agreed there are larger families seeking help. In November, 686 households visited the food bank, including 996 adults and 691 children.
She said the number of clients seems to be stabilizing.
“We’re cautiously optimistic, but I wouldn’t say these numbers are indicative of anything improving. It takes a long time for families to recover after losing a major job.”
Thankfully, central Albertans continue to make the food bank a priority, Kolisnyk said.
“We’re unique in that way. Everybody understands the concept. They want to do their part to make sure nobody is going hungry.”