Fort McMurray faced with yet another hurdle: fire at food bank

A fire at the food bank in Fort McMurray destroyed an estimated 70 pallets of food and supplies 11 p.m. Sunday.

“A fire broke out in the building that we have our extra storage in,” Arianna Johnson, executive director of the Wood Buffalo Food Bank Association, said. “The fire was contained to one room, however there was significant smoke and soot damage done to the bays where we store food and extra items.”

Johnson said the fire happened in the food bank’s overflow storage area, so it has enough supplies to get through this week. On the weekend, workers will do a full inventory and take stock of what has to be disposed of and what needs to be re-purchased or collected through donations.

She said the loss could value upwards of $200,000.

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Johnson said RCMP are investigating the cause of the fire.

In the last four months, the region has struggled with the economic downturn, been evacuated due to a raging wildfire and flooded by heavy rains.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray food bank struggles to meet ‘off the charts’ demand 

The food bank was already seeing soaring demand for its services before the wildfire destroyed thousands of homes and forced more than 80,000 people out.

“We’re still operating as a re-entry service until Tuesday of next week,” Johnson said.

Since the wildfire, the food bank as been helping with re-entry services, thanks to a $1-million grant from the Red Cross.

“The qualification after the fire was basically if you had a Red Cross number you could access our services…Everybody, regardless of whether their home was standing or not, suffered a financial burden during the evacuation.”

As of Sept. 6, the organization will return to its traditional function.

“We are back to our normal screening process,” Johnson explained.

“People will have to go through the full application of providing income and expenses so that we can ensure we’re serving the people who are truly in need.

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“The only exception to that rule will be people in Abasand, Beacon Hill and Waterways who have not yet been able to re-enter will be able to access us with just a Red Cross number until the end of November. They’ll still have to book an appointment though.”

READ MORE: ‘It’s a lot to deal with’: Fort McMurray residents clean up after rain, flooding 

The food bank in Fort McMurray has been handing out roughly 150 hampers a day.

Johnson says, despite the recent setback, staff are able to keep their spirits up.

“My staff team is a very strong, close-knit team who is very dedicated and passionate about what they do for a living,” she said.

“They’re focused on getting what needs to be done done and not focusing on the negatives.”

READ MORE: Wood Buffalo Food Bank re-opens after Fort McMurray wildfire 

If you’d like to help, consider donating food to your local food bank, especially in big centres like Calgary and Edmonton.

“We do periodically have to turn to those food banks to access food,” Johnson explained. “If you’re wanting to make monetary donations, you can do so through our website.

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“It’s important that as people support our region and us that they remember that their local food banks are still dealing with the economic downturn and an increase in services through that,” Johnson said. “Many of them are still serving people who’ve been evacuated out of Fort McMurray.”

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