By Lethbridge Herald on November 6, 2023.
Theodora MacLeod – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The province has announced it will be providing $10 million to food banks throughout Alberta to assist with increased demand for services. The announcement comes as inflation and cost of living continue to be a challenge, leaving many turning to community organizations for support.
Jason Nixon, Minister of Seniors, Community, and Social Services, says that of the $10 million, $3.7 million will be distributed directly to food banks across the province, $4.1 million will go towards grants for which organizations can apply.
“We will continue to look for other ways that we can continue to partner with those important organizations to meet our objectives as a province and make Albertans’ life a little bit easier,” said Nixon following the announcement in Edmonton.
The remaining $2.2 million is set to go to Food Banks Alberta to develop a program aimed at supporting Albertans during emergencies such as forest fires.
“Every food bank within this province is as unique and distinctive as the community in which it serves,” says Food Banks Alberta executive director, Shawna Bissell. “They all, however, share one commonality and that is the commitment to ensure children, families, seniors, and individuals do not leave their spaces hungry.”
In Lethbridge, Mac Nichol, executive director of Lethbridge Food Bank says that while the funding doesn’t fix the issues food support organizations face, it does help. From March 2022 to Sept. 2023, food banks in Lethbridge saw a 48 per cent increase in use. With that also came an increase in long term need extending beyond six months.
The average, regular/medium size hamper, provided monthly, feeds between two to three people, and has a value of approximately $158. Those who receive the monthly hampers are also welcomed three times weekly to pick up what Nichol calls ‘dailies,’ perishable and oversized items such as fruit that does not come in the monthly hamper. Those combined initiatives provide upwards of $400 a month in food per family or client. In addition to the hampers, the Lethbridge Food Bank also provides lunch for students in need at 36 schools and two organizations, reaching almost 3,000 meals provided weekly.
This is not the first time the current government has directed funding towards food banks. In Nov. 2022, the government committed $20 million over a two-year period, the second $10 million of which was distributed in Spring 2023. From that funding, Nichol says the Lethbridge Food Bank was given around $40,000 and he anticipates the latest funding will provide a similar amount. “We spend all of that money directly on food,” he says of the funds the food bank receives both from the government and donors.
Though the funding is greatly appreciated, it is not a cure all. “When food crises happen like this, where food costs go up, we receive more clients, which makes us have to purchase more food,” Nichol explains. “We’re buying more food than we did before and that food costs a lot more. What we end up having to do is purchase much more outside of our budget than we anticipated.” Nichol says that this year, the Food Bank had used its entire food budget by the end of August. “That being said, we do have reserves and great community support to get us through this year, but donations and funds like this really help us meet that need.”
Nichol explains that both food and cash donations help the Food Bank, though thanks to local producers and grocery stores, cash donations have an extended purchasing power. “We can usually leverage funds three times the amount donated towards food.”
As the Christmas season approaches, the Lethbridge Food Bank is anticipating a rise in the demand for Christmas hampers too, estimating that last year’s call for 600 hampers will be close to 750 this year, if not more.