Food bank sees highest demand in history last month

Some of those who donated last year are now in need of service

  • May. 25, 2016 3:00 p.m.

The demand at the Red Deer & District Food Bank continues to increase month by month, officials say.

In April, the organization saw the highest demand in its history as they served more than 1,000 adults and 700 children through their hamper program.

“The demand has not diminished, it continues to increase,” said Fred Scaife, executive director of the Red Deer Food Bank, adding a normal month two years ago would have seen 650 people in total using the hamper program. “We’re better than double that now.”

Scaife said the economy is directly related to the growing need at the food bank.

“During our intake process we ask people why they are coming to us and usually it’s a lack of money – that is one of the questions on our intake forms. Another question is source of income and unemployment or no income are the top two right now, so that means that people are out of work,” he said. “It is getting worse because we are coming up on the unemployment insurance anniversary of basically the first round of layoffs last year. All those people that have been on unemployment for almost a year but are in trouble.”

Donations of both food and money are needed at the food bank.

“The thing that worries us the most is that we want to be able to maintain the standard of service that our client base deserves,” said Scaife. “They live in fear and they have unsettled lives to begin with and to have one of their mainstays which is us all of a sudden exhibiting behaviours that are disruptive to them by saying sorry, you only get half as much this month as you got six months ago when you got your hamper – we can’t do that.

“We have reduced our hampers slightly – a can here and a package there. We’re keeping an eye on our inventory and we are keeping an eye on the demand but we are prepared to have to start to spend money in huge volumes come those critical summer and fall months. That is where we need the help. We are underfunded now, so we need money to make sure that the groceries stay up to the level that we need them.”

In addition, Scaife said it has been an emotional time for staff at the food bank as Alberta’s economy continues to deflate.

“These people have gone through life to this point never imagining they would be here. There are people on our hamper rolls in the last couple of months that a year ago were on our donor roll – that’s how bad it’s gotten. We’re looking in the eyes of these people,” he said.

“When you look in the eyes of 40-year-old adults who are trying to support children and they find themselves unemployed – when you look in their eyes and when you read that fear and the shame – it does take a toll on our staff.

“The intake workers are the ones who are dealing with those first phone calls when they come in. With each of those phone calls there is usually a story behind it and they want to unburden themselves and we allow that. It’s heartbreaking.

“On the other side, we have seen tremendous community support in this and when we get community support that uplifts the staff. We appreciate the fact that we are not in this alone and it’s an important boost that we need.”