Shelves bare at several Alberta food banks as usage increases

WATCH ABOVE: Alberta Food Banks are asking for help. While summer is usually slow for donations, this year the problem is amplified across the province. Fletcher Kent reports. 

EDMONTON — Alberta Food Banks has put out a desperate plea for help. The shelves are bare at several facilities across the province because they simply can’t keep up with the growing demand.

“The volume is huge for us here,” said Tamisan Bencz-Knight with Edmonton’s Food Bank, “but those smaller communities are also in need too.”

Over the past two weeks, Alberta Food Banks has shipped a record 78 pallets of food to 24 banks struggling to keep food on the shelves.

The St. Albert Food Bank usually helps 19-27 per month, but this June it assisted 31 new families.

A bit farther north in Fort McMurray, the local food bank has seen a 57 per cent increase in usage in the first six months of 2015 over last year’s figures. And the Hinton Food Bank Association expects this year’s numbers to hit or exceed the highest levels its seen in a decade.

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Here in Edmonton, Bencz-Knight said usage is up by 3,000 users this month over September of 2014.

“Right now we’re being very reactive and just trying to build those hampers, making sure that people have food and they’re able to support themselves and their families,” said Bencz-Knight.

Staff said it’s due to a slowdown in Alberta’s economy. They started to see numbers increase at the end of 2014 and don’t believe they’ve hit the peak.

“We haven’t hit that pivotal moment that we’re going, ‘Okay, now it’s going to start getting better.’ We’re still on the uprise with the number of people needing our help.”

Edmonton’s Food Bank recently conducted a survey to see who is relying on them for meals. Longtime volunteer Alan Shugg says the results were eye opening.

“We certainly are serving the working poor. It’s not that many people don’t have jobs, but they’re not making the income that they need,” said Shugg.

READ MORE: 5 common myths about food bank use in Canada

With many people struggling to find full-time work, with rent and utility payments still coming out of their banks, Shugg says it’s tough for them to find places to cut back.

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“At times they’re having to borrow money or food from friends or relatives, that’s the only way they’ll get through,” he said. “Sometimes we would find that the adults would go without food for a day or so so they could feed their kids… I’ve seen that more than once.”

Food banks are asking for all the help they can get, whether it’s through food and monetary donations or by volunteering. For more information on how you can help, visit Alberta Food Banks’ website.

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