Marjorie Bencz has been the voice of Edmonton’s Food Bank for decades and this year, her plea is particularly worrisome.
“This has been the worst year that I’ve seen as executive director of the organization,” she said.
“I’ve been with it since 1989 – we’ve never had these kinds of challenges.”
“It’s the perfect storm.”
The strain on Edmonton’s Food Bank carried over from 2015. More people in Alberta lost their jobs and in the spring, the food bank was helping out Syrian refugees who settled in the city.
Then May hit.
Wildfires in Fort McMurray drained a lot of the food supply. In less than a month, Edmonton’s Food Bank sent more than $400,000 worth of food outside the city to help with the disaster and displaced residents.
Some of those residents have remained in Edmonton and continue to count on the food bank.
Twenty-thousand food hampers are being handed out each month. That’s 5,000 more than this time last year.
“The food is going out faster than it’s coming in,” Bencz said.
Another problem, according to Bencz, is that there aren’t enough donor dollars to go around.
“Individuals and businesses have told us, either because of the economy, they can’t donate to us that same level as they have in the past. They’ve already donated earlier in the year to the Red Cross.”
The Canadian Red Cross has contributed $2.44 million to support more than a dozen food banks affected by the wildfires; $1.2 million went directly to the Wood Buffalo Food Bank in Fort McMurray.
When the Wood Buffalo Food Bank re-opened in June it had to toss out all of its perishable and frozen food. Fifty-thousand kilograms of non-perishable food also had to be thrown out.
Anna Noble with the food bank said the line-ups have stabilized. There is now a two-day wait to get an appointment for a food hamper, but there is uncertainty about the months ahead.
“Insurance is running out,” Noble said. “Not everyone has returned home yet.”
The situation is similar across the province.
“I can’t think of one food bank that I’ve spoken to around the province that hasn’t seen some kind of increase,” Stephanie Riby, of Alberta Food Banks, said.
“People have worked through their savings, people have lost their positions and they’ve just hit that end.”
In 2015, Alberta led the country in food bank use. Alberta Food Banks expects the province to hold on to that title when this year’s statistics are released on Nov. 15.
Rigby said her office took three calls just this week from people who have never before used a food bank.
Next month, the holiday campaigns for Edmonton’s Food Bank will begin.
Bencz believes the goodwill of others will push them through the festive season, but after that, she is worried.
“It could mean difficult choices.”
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