January 29, 2018 8:44 pm
Updated: January 29, 2018 8:45 pm

Food bank still dealing with fallout from Fort McMurray wildfire

WATCH ABOVE: When residents of Fort McMurray returned home after the 2016 wildfire, the food bank faced unprecedented demand. Twenty months later, the need remains high and one segment of the population stands out. Sarah Kraus reports.


Every month, the Wood Buffalo Food Bank serves nearly 750 families and about 10 per cent of them are still out of their homes because of wildfire damage.

“People want us to say everything is great and we’re in recovery and everyone is doing great, but it’s just not the truth,” executive director Arianna Johnson explained.

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Based on information gathered from other natural disasters, Johnson said the food bank could be dealing with this increased demand for a long time.

“Food banks will be impacted up to 10 years because people who are uninsured and under-insured, it will take them longer to get back on their feet,” Johnson said.

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

Prior to the wildfire, there were other issues impacting the need at the food bank too.

“The reality is, even before the fire, we had a crisis up here. It was an economic crisis. When you take the economic crisis and you compound it with the fire, the reality is things aren’t decreasing.”

Johnson said one segment of the population has been relying on its hampers far more since the fires — seniors.

Before the wildfire, the food bank served about 20 clients per month who were over the age of 60.

Towards the end of 2017, that number had skyrocketed to between 100 and 120 a month.

Many of those seniors are directed to the food bank through the St. Aidan’s Society.

“We strongly believe that seniors were over-represented in people that lost their homes in Fort McMurray,” explained St Aidan’s executive director Luana Bussieres.

“Many of the seniors tend to live in the older areas of town, and those were the places that were hardest hit.”

READ MORE: One year after Fort McMurray wildfire, delayed rebuild underway

Bussieres said seniors also have trouble coping with the upheaval brought on by the fire.

“Additional living expenses and losing their home, living with other people, living where they’re not familiar, those are all things that have been challenging.”

Bussieres believes the seniors always needed help with their basic needs, but had trouble accessing services like the food bank.

“Because lots of seniors don’t drive and of course taking a big heavy hamper on the bus is difficult, and lifting them is difficult,” she said.

Johnson echoed that statement.

“One of the biggest barriers seniors face in accessing our services is transportation, and possibly them being homebound.”

READ MORE: Fort McMurray volunteers renovate home for sick little girl

To help with that, St. Aidan’s now directly delivers food bank donations to the seniors in Fort McMurray. They’re hoping volunteers will step up to help drive the hampers.

“If there’s people who want to volunteer and make a difference in the life of a senior, that’s a huge way to do it,” Bussieres said.

To help, you can contact the McMan Youth, Family and Community Services Association.

The non-profits are also working together to help streamline referrals, so clients of all ages don’t have to jump through multiple hoops to get the help they need.

“We need to work together to make sure we’re not retraumatizing families by making them tell their stories over and over and over again,” Johnson said.

Despite the increased demand, Johnson said the community has been quick to make sure nobody goes hungry.

“The support for our organization since the fire has been astronomical.”

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