Edmonton festivals are seeing record attendance this summer, but the food bank says it’s fallen far short of its donation goal from Heritage Festival.
Most festivals are back in 2022 after having to cancel or go virtual for 2020 and 2021 during COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
Several local favourites are hosted over the August long weekend and attendance increased across the board.
K-Days saw 760,000 people over 10 days, an eight per cent jump over 2019.
“That just shows that the community is excited to get back to K-Days,” said Amanda Frigon, the Explore Edmonton fair director. “They’ve been missing it for the last two years. So that was great.
“We had great attendance,” Frigon said, adding that was likely due to a combination of pent-up demand after COVID closures, attractive food and entertainment vendors and collaboration with community partners.
“We did have some great feedback on making the prices more affordable for families to come down, also reducing the parking and gate admission.”
Taste of Edmonton saw more than 300,000 visitors, numbers not seen in years.
“It was a perfect combination of amazing food partners, amazing entertainment, all blended together for people wanting to get out of their homes. And we had amazing weather as well this year,” said Donovan Vienneau, Taste of Edmonton general manager.
“This year was successful,” he said. “This year the attendance was up… Coming out of COVID, or what we’re experiencing post-pandemic, was really exciting for everybody.”
“This year was a lot of fun because people weren’t just peeking behind the curtain like they were last year, they were fully immersed. That’s why we had great attendance.”
Taste of Edmonton kept the extra COVID-19 spacing in its site plan and created lots of open air space for visitors to walk around.
“We invested a lot of time and energy getting additional seating — picnic tables in the parks and seating in the square,” Vienneau said.
Heritage Festival marked its last year in Hawrelak Park for the foreseeable future with long lines.
“We’re seeing all these folks getting out here together,” said executive director Jim Gibbon. “They’re spending time together and they’re reopening and they’re remembering how important a festival like this is for its antiracism qualities but just for the opportunity to get together in the sunlight.”
Heritage Festival is also one of the food bank’s largest food drives of the year. However, this year, the charity collected just 15 per cent of its goal.
“We were really thrilled with the people who came down and helped us out,” said Marjorie Bencz, Edmonton Food Bank’s executive director. “We were hoping to get a little more because the number of people needing our services has grown so much.”
Bencz thinks a couple of factors led to lower-than-expected donations for the Heritage Festival campaign: the touch-and-go weather and that people are worried about where they’re spending their money.
“I think overall people are themselves a bit nervous about their own financial situation when they hear and see the increased costs of living.”
In June 2022, the food bank saw a 97 per cent increase in demand for its hamper project from June 2020.
“We’re making an appeal today to people to donate online or visit grocery stores and drop off an item,” Bencz said. “Without the community support, we don’t exist (and) we appreciate the support we get.”
She also witnessed a first at this year’s Heritage Festival.
“We had a couple people come down and make inquiries about how they can get food from us… It’s tight right now.
“I’ve never been approached by people down there,” Bencz added. “It was a very unique situation… People are still trying to navigate, figure out how they can make ends meet, in some cases.”