Food bank usage up due to Alberta oilpatch slump

WATCH ABOVE: Low oil prices in Alberta continue to hit home for families. Some of the proof can be seen in the increased food bank usage in some communities. Global’s Quinn Campbell reports.

TABER, Alta. – Volunteers are busy filling shelves at the Taber Food Bank Society, trying to keep up with demand as the economy pushes more people through the doors.

Kathy Boersma, who works at the food bank, said she has definitely seen an increase.

“I would say about nine per cent since January; the crunch has hit our oilfield workers.”

During a typical month, the Taber Food Bank divvies out about 135 hampers, but lately it’s been closer to 155.

Boersma has been involved with the food bank since it started 15 years ago. She said this isn’t the first time oilfield workers have used its services to get through a downturn.

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“Money runs out, and the bills have to be paid,” she said. “They have high debts so food is the last on the list, unfortunately. Usually they only get one or two hampers while waiting for unemployment, or they are just before a job. They don’t become dependent on us.”

Boersma said for some, coming in and asking for help is a struggle in itself, with many saying they didn’t expect the oil industry to be slow for this long.

“We’ve heard that from quite a few of our men, that they thought it would be a month to two months, like typical spring break,” she said. “But with time, the bigger corporations were telling them, ‘This is going to be a long time.’”

Food bank usage is up across the province. Fort McMurray has seen an increase of 57 per cent in the last six months, with communities like Viking and Hinton also seeing massive spikes.

Danielle MacIntyre with Interfaith Food Bank in Lethbridge said they have seen a slight increase, mostly from the spin-off of oil and gas, which impacts the service industry.

“We are seeing people have their hours cut back, or we are seeing people who are working in industries hit by the economy changes returning back home to their rural communities.”

Until the economy turns around, Boersma said the food bank’s door is always open.

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“We are here to help, whether you have high income, low income, middle income…everyone has a time in their life where they need help.”

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