By Stephanie Swensrude
Picture yourself standing in the middle of Roger’s Place, looking out into the packed stands. If every seat in there was filled, that would be the same amount of people that visit the Food Bank every month: around 21 thousand.
Now imagine half of those are children.
This is the picture painted by Doug Hunter at Edmonton’s Food Bank. And that number is on the rise.
“We continue to see new people and new families that need help and are struggling,” said Hunter. “Those that are having food resource challenges reach out to us a little more.”
On average, regular food bank users visit four times a year. Hunter said that number is increasing.
“There’s always talk about having two, three months [of savings] in the bank … but with COVID that has really been challenging,” said Hunter.
Since 2019, Alberta food bank visits increased by nearly 30 per cent. But it wasn’t a straight line up. Most food banks reported a dip in usage in April 2020 after the CERB and other pandemic-related supports were introduced.
“That really put people in a position, especially if they were already living on unemployment or social assistance, it actually increased their income enough that they were able to sustain themselves,” said Arianna Scott, interim CEO of Food Banks Alberta.
Scott said a “perfect storm” of factors is causing the increase occurring now, a year after CERB has stopped. Rapid food inflation, increasing housing costs and low incomes (both from job loss and the removal of government benefits) are the main reasons for the increase.
NAITSA operates a food centre that provides non-perishables to students. The centre was established in 2015 and has seen steady growth overall since then. However, Jessie Burchnall, Food Centre specialist, said that numbers have actually gone down over the course of the pandemic. She speculated that this was due to the lower traffic on campus due to classes being mostly online.
“We really hope to see that growth continue as we come out of COVID,” said Burchnall.