July 24th, 2024

Food banks see rise in use with donations still needed

By Steffanie Costigan - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on January 4, 2024.

Herald file photo - Volunteers Lindsey Stanford, Lisa Bauman, and Evan Pigat pack food hampers this past fall at the Lethbridge Food Bank. City food banks say they are still in great need of donations following the holidays.

With the Christmas season over and a new year underway, city food banks are still in great need of donations with the more families feeling a financial pinch in their pocketbooks.

The Christmas Hope campaign – a partnership of food banks and other local organizations, was able to help over 9,500 community members, 33,64 of them being adults and 6,150 children.

This is all due to donations by the community.

But Interfaith Food Bank executive director Danielle McIntyre said Wednesday that support is still needed.

“We are going to continue to need the same level of support that we got at Christmas, I think for the next few months, if not for this entire year. We are particularly in need of those standard hamper items. So those are your non-perishable food items,” said McIntyre.

She said non-perishable items include cereal, pasta, pasta sauce, canned meats and canned fruits, Food banks will also accept perishable items and halal-friendly foods, foods that are high in fibre, high in protein and have low sugar and salt content.

McIntyre added food banks don’t for see a decrease in demand this year.

“What we want to do is ensure that we’re able to keep our shelves stocked because we don’t see a decrease in demand in our near future.”

Executive director of the Lethbridge Food Bank, Mac Nichol, said his organization saw an increase in demand last month and he expects it to continue.

“We definitely saw an increase last month. Our December hampers we gave out over 100, more than we did the year before,” with each hamper representing a household, he said.

“So you can look at that as an increase of about 300 people, at least, which is quite significant for us. That being said, that need definitely hasn’t gone away,” said Nichol.

Nichol said donations slow down in January and February but there are still just as many mouths to feed.

“We will most likely see similar numbers in January, as well. And with that, we don’t get as much support coming in the next month as people are very giving in the giving season of Christmas. But now that we’re getting into January, February, it gets a little bit quieter around here. . .We’re still looking for a lot of support, especially in food.”

McIntyre said in Lethbridge the average number of community members using food banks between 600 to 700 households per month last but that figure is currently around 1,000 to 1,100 households per month.

“2023 was quite the year, we saw increases month over month over month. And in Alberta, from pre-pandemic numbers to post-pandemic numbers last year. From 2019 to 2023, food banks in Alberta saw a 94.1 per cent increase. A lot of food banks are seeing almost twice as many people as they would normally see,” said McIntyre.

Nichol said the Lethbridge Food Bank budgeted around $280,000 per food in 2023 alone.

“The increase was substantial,” he said.

He said the when the food bank sees the types of numbers using its services “we always try and plan ahead and make sure we meet that need.”

McIntyre shared tips that help struggling households to stretch their groceries such as spending budgets on good food and to prepare enough meals that can be stretched throughout the week.

She also said food can still be used after the “best-before” date expires.

And it’s important to eat well.

“I do think that people should continue to put food first because garbage in garbage out. If you’re not feeding yourself well, your health is going to suffer as well as your emotions, your relationships with other people and so if you do have to forego any bill, hopefully it’s not the food bill,” said McIntyre.

There are concerns over food prices increasing this year.

“It gets scary when you think about how long this has been going on. And knowing that there’s going to be higher food prices again this year… that means on top of having more families to serve, we’re going to need more money to because we do have to buy the food items that don’t come into us,” McIntyre.

She encouraged struggling community members to reach out for support.

“We do know that there are a lot of people who are out there silently suffering and not asking for help. What we want to do is encourage them to come forward if they do need that support, especially for single adults who are living alone, seniors, people who are stuck on fixed incomes. We do expect things to be a lot harder for them this coming year,” said McIntyre.

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