With numbers of hungry Central Albertans almost doubling over the last year, the Red Deer Food Bank is welcoming its first-ever infusion of provincial funding.
Alberta Community Services Minister Jeremy Nixon announced on Wednesday that $20 million will go to Alberta’s 110-some food banks over the next two years.
Half of this money (or $5 million in each of the two years) will be direct funding, while the other half will be used to match private donations to food banks.
“Nobody should have to worry about feeding their family in a province as prosperous as Alberta,” said Nixon on Wednesday.
The minister acknowledged rising grocery, gas and utility costs are creating a personal economic “crisis” for many families, who “need our help now.”
Usually, food banks have not received federal or provincial dollars but have had to rely solely on citizen donations, so the Red Deer Food Bank’s executive-director Mitch Thomson believes this funding, even when spread over more than 100 food banks, “will be incredibly helpful…
“We are grateful for any gift,” he explained, and “appreciate anything that will increase our buying power.”
Of the $10 million that’s earmarked for Alberta food banks in 2023, $5 million will be set aside to match private donations. Therefore, Thomson hopes more people will give cash to take advantage of the provincial matching grants.
He noted food banks buy in bulk so have greater buying power than individuals who purchase groceries to donate.
Getting the best bang for the food buck is on Thomson’s mind because of the huge increase in clients at the local food bank since last year. From January to October, the non-profit served 21,000 people, compared to 13,000 in the same 10 months of 2021.
October was record-breaking for hampers — 934 were distributed to feed 2,300 people, said Thomson. Another 3,800 people walked into the food bank last month to see if they could pick up bread or vegetables to stretch their own resources.
Thomson noted that grocery spending by the food bank rose by $175,000 in the first quarter of the year, while cash donations over the same period plunged by $100,000.
Food banks are feeling the pressure on many fronts: Inflation is making it harder to cover the groceries bill for a rising number of clients. At the same time, people across the board have less expendible cash, so are making fewer contributions to the food bank, said Thomson, who believes the matching grants should really help in this area.
Usually, Christmas is when food banks can “bulk up” and set aside some extra food for leaner times in the New Year. But this fall, food stores are so low “we are just doing what we can to keep up with what we need today,” he added.