Pressure on Food Bank

Red Deer’s food bank is struggling to keep up with the increasing demand for food. According to Canada Food Banks’ recent report HungerCount 2009, Alberta saw a 61 per cent jump in food bank use from 2008 to 2009 during the month of March. But that was eight months ago.

Red Deer Food Bank employee Josh King

Red Deer Food Bank employee Josh King

Red Deer’s food bank is struggling to keep up with the increasing demand for food.

According to Canada Food Banks’ recent report HungerCount 2009, Alberta saw a 61 per cent jump in food bank use from 2008 to 2009 during the month of March.

But that was eight months ago.

Red Deer saw a whopping 110 per cent increase in demand last month compared with October 2008, and an 80 per cent demand increase in recent months.

Meanwhile, donations to the Red Deer Food Bank have only increased by 20 per cent.

“It’s just escalated throughout the year,” said Fred Scaife, executive director of Red Deer Food Bank Society.

“It just has not stopped. This dramatic increase started in January.”

In March, food bank use across Canada rose 18 per cent, the biggest climb in demand since Canada Food Banks started keeping track in 1997.

At 61 per cent, Alberta saw the biggest increase in demand across Canada, followed by Nova Scotia with 20 per cent.

In Alberta, children served by food banks increased 43 per cent, compared with the national average of 37 per cent.

Twenty-seven per cent of Alberta food bank users are employed — twice the national average. Another 4.9 per cent receive federal employment insurance benefits, up from 2.7 per cent from last year.

The annual report says in Alberta, “What is new this year is that the ‘working poor,’ those who are under-or-unemployed, and those struggling on fixed incomes have been joined by those who, believing they had a stable income, stretched their expenses, only to see all or part of that income disappear.”

Scaife said the surge in demand is simple economics since Alberta had the farthest to fall during the recession.

The report said one-third of Alberta food banks have had to cut back on the amount of food they give out.

Red Deer Food Bank reduced hamper supplies for the first time in seven years after increasing whenever it could through the years.

“I would say we’re back to the levels that we were in probably about 2004. But even at 2004 (levels), we’re still getting five to seven days worth of food into the hands of people who need it critically.”

Not as many fresh fruits and vegetables are available on a daily basis because more of the supply is needed to help fill hampers.

Scaife said food hampers may shrink again in the new year if donations don’t increase.

The food bank’s next public donation campaign runs from today to Saturday at Festival RV’s Festival Of Lights.

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com