Times are getting tougher in Alberta, and no one knows it better than Alberta’s food banks. Although the growth in people utilizing food banks has been steady since last year, both the Edmonton Food Bank and the University of Alberta’s Campus Food Bank have reported significant increases in demand for assistance. NAITSA’s own Food Centre has only started this year, but already it has seen a consistent growth in use this term.
NAITSA’s Food Centre has seen success since starting up, pulling in a whopping 1,264 pounds of food during its first Trick-or-Eat fundraising over Halloween. Over 30 volunteers assisted in gathering food donations from nearby neighbourhoods.
“The NAIT community in general has also been incredibly supportive, be it departments wishing to host food drives, challenge other departments or individuals bringing items by,” said Matthew Pecore, NAITSA’s Food Centre Co-ordinator.
“The Centre has only been open since Sept. 1, so it is a bit difficult to assess growth at this point. We have, however, seen a month-to-month increase in hampers provided and are expecting that number to continue to rise,” Pecore said.
A typical hamper would include canned beans, meat, vegetables, fruit and soup, with mac ’n’ cheese, rice, pasta and sauce and evaporated milk powder, plus any other items that have been donated, such as bottled water, he said.
In addition, there is a box of individual items in the NAITSA reception area for occasional use.
The centre, which has space in the basement of the Business Tower, is well placed to serve the NAIT community. However, it still runs out of the NAITSA office in Room E-131, so any inquiries about assistance should be directed there.
Food donations are especially needed due to the continued economic downturn. Many food banks are reporting increased demand for services, both in Edmonton and across the country. Food Banks Canada’s newest report, HungerCount 2015, shows that food bank use across Canada has increased 1.3 per cent since 2014 and more than 26 per cent since 2008. Alberta’s overall usage rate increased 23 per cent last year alone.
Caitlin Phare, Executive Director for the U of A’s Campus Food Bank, has noticed that increase at her facility.
“Absolutely, we’ve very definitely seen an increase in our usage and our new registrations this semester specifically and right now we’re on track to assist over 2,000 individuals by the end of the calendar year,” Phare said.
The U of A’s Campus Food Bank frequently works with university departments to increase support on campus.
“We’ve also started working closely with Meal Exchange Canada to help alleviate the issue on a larger scale, at the national level,” she said.
“Over the past 14 months we’ve been seeing steady increases but most notably in the last three months.” The Edmonton Food Bank is taking the biggest hit, as the demand for their services continues to grow.
“It’s a challenging situation right now for us here in Edmonton. In October alone we served 17,722 people through our hamper program. That’s up 21.5 per cent in one year,” said the Edmonton Food Bank’s Tamisan Bencz-Knight.
“Food donations are coming in, however food is going out faster than donations are coming in at this point.”
NAITSA’s Food Centre hasn’t been around long enough to compare years but the trend is obvious.
The centre does offer referrals to the Edmonton Food Bank and discussions with the food banks at the University of Alberta and MacEwan University regarding programming and best practices are ongoing.
As for helping the less fortunate, Bencz-Knight summed it up best: “This is the time of year, of course, when we encourage people to please think about those in need, some people are doing better than others and we encourage people to give what they can – food donation, monetary donation or their time to support our work.”