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Edmonton’s Food Bank, social agencies gear up for uncertain Thanksgiving need

Click to play video 'Edmonton’s Food Bank, social agencies gear up for uncertain Thanksgiving need' Edmonton’s Food Bank, social agencies gear up for uncertain Thanksgiving need
WATCH ABOVE: Thanksgiving will look much different for many people amid the COVID-19 pandemic and that's no different for the organizations in Edmonton that provide services to those in need. Nicole Stillger reports.

Thanksgiving will look much different for many people amid the COVID-19 pandemic and that’s no different for the organizations in Edmonton that provide services to those in need.

Tamisan Bencz-Knight with Edmonton’s Food Bank said the pandemic has been a “whirlwind” of challenges and unknowns.

“From the onset on March 11 when the pandemic was declared until now, we’ve had our ups and downs,” Bencz-Knight said Friday. “It has been a whirlwind, a marathon for us, the last six months at Edmonton’s Food Bank.”

Thanks to the many volunteers, staff and donors, Bencz-Knight said the food bank has come back to a place of steady calm.

“Now, this is us going into this marathon of COVID-19 and making sure we stay operational, we stay on task, we stay on target to make sure we have the food and funds available to continue our services into the future.”

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Read more: Edmonton women raise nearly $20,000 for charity by sewing masks during COVID-19 pandemic

The organization currently serves between 18,000 and 20,000 people per month through its hamper programs. However, with group gathering limits and people sticking to their family cohorts, the food bank said there are still many unknowns ahead and that includes exactly what the need might be this Thanksgiving.

“I don’t think I could compare and contrast from last year’s Thanksgiving to this year’s because of all the dynamics that we’re experiencing,” Bencz-Knight said. “We are anticipating that it could be a little bit more. We are gearing up to making sure we can weather whatever happens.

“It’ll look and feel differently for us and we are anticipating a greater need for the community. There won’t be the community meals out there by the social agencies in the inner city like they normally do, or the other festive meals because it has to be smaller, more individually run.”

Click to play video 'Hinshaw lays out guidance for a safe Thanksgiving amid COVID-19 pandemic' Hinshaw lays out guidance for a safe Thanksgiving amid COVID-19 pandemic
Hinshaw lays out guidance for a safe Thanksgiving amid COVID-19 pandemic

READ MORE: Alberta releases public health guidelines on Thanksgiving

One staple in south Edmonton has already announced it won’t be putting on its annual community Thanksgiving meal this year. Organizers of the Millbourne Laundromat Thanksgiving dinner, which has served a hot meal to those in need for nearly 30 years, said Friday they aren’t hosting the meal this year due to COVID-19.

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Bissell Centre said it plans to go ahead with its annual Thanksgiving dinner.

“We are so grateful that we’re still able to host a Thanksgiving dinner for participants in the community,” Scarlet Bjornson with Bissell Centre said.

However, she noted the meal will look drastically different than in previous years. Typically, they serve anywhere from 400 to 600 people. This year, that number will be much lower.

“Normally the capacity in our building is 120 people, so with volunteers, we are usually able to feed about 100 people an hour. This year is different as we will be offering socially distant meals — three sittings of 30 people — so those numbers go down quite dramatically.”

The organization said Friday it is still finalizing its plans for the meal.

With more uncertainty ahead as we move into the fall and winter, the food bank encourages those who are able to donate, to consider doing so.

“We have bulked up as an organization to make sure that we have the product that we need but of course, it’s the ebb and flow of everything,” Bencz-Knight said “It might look like there’s a lot of food behind me… but when you talk about 20,000 people a month, when you speak of possibly a huge influx of need and the changes that we’ve had to experience and go through — we always have to make sure that we have product coming in to replenish that.”

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And no donation is too small.

“Some people can give a little bit of time and become a volunteer with us. Some people are just buying a can of food as they’re doing their regular grocery shopping. Some people have gone online and made a financial contribution,” she said.

“It all adds up.”

Anyone interesting in donating to the food bank can do so at any major grocery store or Edmonton’s Food Bank warehouse. Financial donations can be made online.