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Calgary Food Bank sees hamper waiting period grow to 15 days as food insecurity crisis worsens

Food bank provided hampers impacting as many as 8,000 people in one week in March.

The Calgary Food Bank has put out an urgent call for help from Calgarians, as the current food insecurity crisis in the city grows, and with it the number of people needing food.

The food bank said on May 4, that the wait period to receive a food hamper is now 15 days. A quickly growing number that reflects the increased demand and declining resources to fill needs.

“This has been a compounding issue that has grown over time,” said Melissa From, CEO of the Calgary Food Bank.

“We have a lot of different things at play here with obvious inflationary issues, increases of food costs, increases in immigration— particularly Ukrainian newcomers coming in—we just have more people needing help.”

From said that the need is greater now with all of the pressures affecting food security, but there is a solution.

“If there’s one thing I know about Calgary is that this is a really generous city. And so if you have a little bit to spare when you’re going through the grocery store, you can pick up a few extra items and throw them in that food distribution bin at your local grocery store. That’s huge,” From said.

“If you have a bit of money to spare, we can stretch the value of that dollar with our buying power in our corporate partnerships. But also that’s what helps us to be able to purchase items like milk and eggs and fresh produce to ensure that really well balanced healthy diet for folks.”

She said that with the upcoming summer and Stampede season, the generosity from corporate donors, and from corporate and community groups looking to hold food drives would be immensely helpful.

“If you’re planning a corporate party, if you’re planning a community or a block party, think about how you can use that to get back to your community. Can you do a food drive with it? Can you collect donations?” From said.

“I think it’s great for us to have fun and celebrate our city and our culture, but let’s make sure we’re giving back.”

Information on how to make food or cash donations, how to connect with the Calgary Food Bank as an individual or as a group volunteer, and how to organize a food drive for the food bank can be found at www.calgaryfoodbank.com.

Growth outstripping supply

Year-over-year, the food bank has seen demand rise by 18 per cent for the first quarter. In raw numbers of those who are receiving help, that too has risen from 78,000 January to March in 2022, to more than 92,000 in 2023.

“We recognize that the wait times that people are experiencing when they reach out asking for help is not OK, and we need to pull that back. We need to fix that,” said From.

She said that internally the organization is doing everything it can to address the logistics of getting more hampers, but the reality is need is outstripping demand. Food in, food out is how the food bank describes the current situation.

Even the big food food drives, like those at Christmas are no longer keeping the Calgary Food Bank warehouse full.

“What we used to be able to do during that Christmas quarter—almost September to December—in terms of food, food drives and fundraisers would carry us through at least three quarters of the year,” From said.

“It’s just not anymore. Now it’s April, May and that food is long gone. We need that level of generosity to continue throughout the year because the hunger isn’t seasonal.”

Even one of the largest donations made recently during Ramadan by the Ismaili Muslim community of 7,500 pounds of food has already been used up.

From said that the Calgarians that are using the food bank are also some of the people that have traditionally never relied on emergency hampers.

“Our percentage of individuals using the food bank, who are currently working and employed is up 34 per cent,” From said.

“I think this speaks to that crisis of inflation and particularly grocery inflation, where people are working poor.”