The Government of Alberta announced a pair of new funds for food banks, that over the next two years could provide up to $20 million in provincial funding across the province.
The funding is made up of $10 million guaranteed cash—with $5 million to be dispersed within the coming weeks, and an additional $5 million in 2023—and $10 million in matching funds over the next two years.
“Thousands of families, seniors ,and vulnerable Albertans rely on our local local food banks when they’re in times of crisis care to put food on their table,” said Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services Jeremy Nixon.
“No Albertan should ever need to wonder where their next meal is coming from.”
Alberta has the highest rate of food bank use in the nation. From the national Hunger Count, which occurred in October of this year, Alberta has seen a 73 per cent increase in food bank use from 2019, and a 34 per cent increase from last year.
“It is the largest increase across the country, and it is also the largest increase that Alberta has ever experienced,” said Food Banks Alberta CEO Arianna Scott.
“We hear from our members every day that the number of new clients coming through the door is increasing exponentially every month.”
Over a 37 per cent of food bank users in the province are children, four per cent higher than the national average.
Within the city, families make up 60 per cent of Calgary food bank users.
Minister Nixon said that the funding would be going through Alberta’s Community and Social Services to the Family and Community Support Services Association and Food Banks Alberta, and from there on to individual food banks.
“We are currently working with a Alberta Food Banks and FCSS to figure out how we can help best to get those funds out as soon as possible, so they can have the biggest impact before Christmas,” he said.
Current crisis reason for why now said government
Answering a question about why the funding was announced now, instead of earlier this year, Minister Nixon said that hearing the results from the Hunger Count indicated that there was an “immediate crisis.”
“I think that that adds to the answer of why now,” he said.
“During the pandemic, there was also a crisis, so this isn’t new. We actually recently put $6 million into food banks, and we’re building on that because we did see success.”
According to the Calgary Food Bank’s audited financial statements, they received $1,464,668 in government grants in 2020 during the pandemic.
Calgary Food Bank’s interim president Michael Pasma said that every dollar received from the government would go towards feeding Calgarians.
“The money that’s been allocated is going to be used to feed people, so that’s a positive,” Pasma said.
“I think, and the minister recognizes and he talked about it, that isn’t a solution to what we’re doing here, to the work that we do—it doesn’t eliminate it, but it does help.”
Pasma said that it wasn’t clear from Wednesday’s announcement how much money the Calgary Food Bank would be receiving, or when it would be receiving those funds.
“We’re we’re part of a network here in Alberta, so in a due course of time the money will flow from the government to FCSS, and then to the provincial association.
“At that point, they will figure out how to distribute it and we will happily take what they’re able to share with us,” he said.
Support still needed from community for Calgary Food Bank
Pasma said the funding wouldn’t change the continued reliance on Calgarians to support the food bank, whether that is donors or volunteers.
“The government support is needed, but it doesn’t fill what we do every day,” he said.
“We rely on our community—that’s all Calgarians—in order for us to operate everyday. So, we appreciate the support, however, in order for us to fund our operations we have the support of our donors every day.”
In the last fiscal year for the Calgary Food Bank, a total of $17.3 million in funds were donated, and $35.6 million in equivalent dollar value of food was donated. By far the largest category of fund donors for the food bank is personal donations, at 51 per cent, from Calgarians.
Pasma said that for those Calgarians wanting to help right now, they can donate food, funds, or time to the food bank.
“You can give at a local grocery store, you can make a donation here, you can go online, and there’s a lot of events happening this time of year for people to give food,” he said.
“We don’t hand out the food we hand out without the contributions of volunteers, so if you’re able to come for a regular shift, or one shift here or there, it all helps in order to handle the food we handle.”
He said that making a contribution would be making a tangible contribution to the quality of life for another Calgarian.
“If you’re in need of food, that makes this time of year much tougher than if you are not in need of food. There’s extra stress, there’s extra anxiety around it, there’s extra pressure,” Pasma said.
“That’s the kind of pressure that happens at this time of year perhaps more than others.”