One local agency is seeing definite effects of the provincial economy first hand.
As the Red Deer Food Bank continues to provide for those in need, they have begun to see line ups out the door and demand has spiked as well.
Fred Scaife, executive director for the Red Deer Food Bank, said last month saw an increase of 112% in demand in walk in clients compared to October 2014.
“It is outrageous. Last year in 2014, we did 390 food hampers for the month of October and this year in October we did 473,” said Scaife. “The most startling figure to me is in October 2014 in our hamper program we helped feed 251 children, this year in our hamper program in October it was 440 children.
“We have seen steady increases all year long, but all of a sudden the perfect storm seemed to start to gather sometime in mid-September and it has been coming on ever since.”
He added despite the drastic increase in the last couple of months, the food bank was prepared for the economic downturn this year.
“Our preparedness paid off because we were ready for it. It is what I expected it to be up until this last couple of months. We are dealing with numbers here that we as an organization have never dealt with in a one month period. This is record-setting territory that we are dealing with,” said Scaife. “There are literally line ups out the door and it happens with far too much frequency right now.”
Looking ahead, Scaife said there are some concerns as far as the food bank goes heading into the coming months.
“What concerns us really is our client base. What happens at a time like this is we end up with more clients and those clients are the ones who a trip to the food bank was probably never on their radar in life. I’m not saying people grow up and expect to go to the food bank. But there are people out there who are ill prepared for this road and we can see it in their faces when they walk in the door – the desperation that they have. The emotional toll is significant when we deal with these new clients that are so desperate,” said Scaife. “You look in their eyes and it just heart wrenching. When they say things like, ‘I just don’t know what to do’, it takes a piece of you right then and there – it takes a piece of you away.”
There will be upcoming opportunities for the community to help and one is through the agency’s annual Stuff A Bus which runs at Parkland Mall this weekend. From Nov. 27th-29th donations in the terms of non-perishable food, cash and toys can be dropped off at the event which will be located near the Staples entrance of the mall. The fundraiser will also benefit the Red Deer Christmas Bureau.
In addition, Scaife said the food bank is in need of cash donations.
“We desperately need to get some money into our bank account. Considering this time of year, we are running at about 50 per cent of what we should have in our bank account right now. Our bank balance should really be improving significantly and it’s just not getting there. The amount of cash we have coming in right now is virtually nothing compared to what it has been in past years.”
He added the food bank’s purchasing power is also something that can be used to their advantage should they receive cash donations.
“It’s eight to one compared to what the general public can get for us. If we get donations in the form of money than we can fill the cupboards with what we know we need and make sure everyone gets taken care of.”
Scaife said donations of cash are also used for daily operations of the agency including the payment of utilities, gas for their van for pick ups and wages for staff as well.
Scaife added with the drastic increase in demand comes the need for more staff. The agency laid off two people at the beginning of the year and have brought one back since then. But Scaife said the food bank does not have the money to do that.
“We need about three additional bodies right now because of the volume of work that happens this year and with the amount of clients we have as well. We need to have paid, skilled people in certain positions around here to make sure everything runs smoothly. We run a pretty tight ship and very efficiently on the money that we have,” he said. “I can be on edge as much as I want when we’re in this kind of financial situation and when I’m looking at the picture for the future, but when I stop for a moment and I look back over my 18 years here, and I think to myself – when was the last time the City let us down? I can’t think of a time and that makes me feel better. I know that it will happen.”
Meanwhile, Scaife said there is one goal this holiday season and that is to ensure that no one goes without.
“If it was not for the efforts of all the organizations that help out during the holidays it would not happen. There is just too much for one organization to handle during this time. We are so lucky in this City to have a group of organizations come together in unison at this time every year. Between us and other amazing organizations in the City, we’re going to make sure that absolutely no one goes without.”
For more information, contact the Red Deer Food Bank at 403-346-1505.