June Giving Clinics Feed the Food Bank(s)

Thousands of Albertans just can’t afford to go grocery shopping the way they used to, and our food banks are feeling the pressure.

Food Banks Alberta is calling it a state of emergency, and it is hard to argue with that. The provincial association of 113 food banks and food insecurity organizations reports that food bank use throughout Alberta—from Blairmore to Wabasca—had risen 73 per cent between 2019 and 2022.

Click Here to Join our June Giving Clinics

The 2023 numbers have not yet been published on the association’s website, but food banks have seen the crisis continue into 2024 because of inflation, higher interest rates affecting mortgages, rental and retail food price increases, all of which translates into less purchasing power for individuals and families.

Diminishing social assistance resources in Alberta is also a big factor, and those affected are not just those at the lowest income levels. There has been a sharp increase in employed people who are struggling to make ends meet. One-third of program recipients are children.

“We’re witnessing an astronomical rise in food bank usage in the post-COVID years,” says Tamisan Bencz-Knight, Manager of Strategic Relationships & Partnerships at Edmonton’s Food Bank. “From April 2023 to April 2024, we’ve seen an increase of more than 35 percent in the use of our food hamper program.”

In June, Vicars School has chosen food banks to receive the proceeds of our Giving Clinic days—June 17 in Edmonton and June 27 in Calgary—in the two communities where our clinics are located.

Edmonton’s Food Bank, the first food bank in Canada, was created more than four decades ago as a donation centre for food gleaned (salvaged) from farmers, retailers, and grocery stores to be distributed to those in need. Today, the organization continues the gleaning operations, along with donated food and money, which is used to for operations and to purchase food to round out the selection food available.

With more than five million kilograms of food redistributed throughout the community, key infrastructure is needed. The newest warehouse opened last June on Indigenous People’s Day and is named NISO, meaning “two” in Cree, as it sits between the two existing warehouses.

The Edmonton warehouses enable food distribution to over 75,000 people annually and thousands more through 350 soup kitchens, shelters, schools, and community organizations. Clients access food hampers over the phone (780-425-4190) or through the on-line form on Edmonton’s Food Bank’s website. The organization’s Beyond Food Program offers job readiness support, referrals, safety ticket acquisition, one-on-one supports, and much more. The Beyond Food Program is intended to address the root causes of food insecurity – poverty.

Despite the generosity of the community and the success of Edmonton’s Food Bank, the unprecedented volume of need is outpacing food supplies which often run low between major food drives and festivals such as the annual Heritage Festival. The organization relies on donations of both food and money, to keep warehouses stocked.

The Calgary Food Bank is experiencing similar pressures. The Calgary Food Bank was started in 1982 by four volunteers in a church basement just when Alberta experienced an economic downturn that resulted in thousands of oil industry workers losing their jobs. The Calgary Food Bank brokered partnerships with food-related industries, probably the most significant with trucking and food distribution companies, that helped divert safe usable food from landfills to those in need.

The Calgary Food Bank’s Food Industry Advisory Committee of food industry leaders helped create an infrastructure for the reliable redirection of nutritious food away from waste to the charity. In 2023, 91 per cent of the charity’s food donations came from their 360 food industry partners.

Despite this continuing support, the Calgary operation responded to more than double the requests for their emergency food hampers during and after the pandemic.

Last year, the Calgary Food Bank gave out more than 141,000 food hampers, the highest number ever. This year, the demand is higher. “We’ve seen a 35 per cent increase in demand for food support during the first three months of 2024 compared to the same time span in 2023,” says Cassandra Woods, its communications coordinator. “Most days, we distribute 700 emergency food hampers.”

As with other food banks in Alberta and throughout Canada, there’s an increase in clients who are working and are not able to stretch their paychecks to cover basic necessities. “We have a wish list for donation of food and other items on our website,” says Cassandra. To help those most in need, the Calgary Food Bank welcomes food and monetary donations.

Vicars School of Massage Therapy will be donating the gross proceeds of one day of our student massage clinics at each campus to their closest food bank. For our monthly Giving Clinics, we choose what we predict to be the busiest days to maximize the donation we can make. This month, that is June 17 for Edmonton and June 27 for Calgary. At Vicars student massage clinics, massage therapists in training are supervised by faculty and offer massages to the public at $35 per session.

While this fundraiser is directed to those serving Calgary and Edmonton, where Vicars has campuses, if you are reading this in Squamish, High Level, La Ronge, or anywhere else in Canada, please consider making a one-time or monthly donation to your nearest food bank. You won’t have to look far, sadly: there are 113 within the Alberta Food Banks association alone, and they could all use your help.

Kathleen Thurber
Author: Kathleen Thurber

Kathleen Thurber is an Edmonton-based health and science writer.