The annual Stuff-A-Bus food and fundraiser kicked off on Nov. 18, aiming to help address food insecurity in Calgary.
Over the past year, the number of emergency food hampers given out by the Calgary Food Bank has risen from 350 per day to between 650 and 700, marking a significant rise in need that outstrips previous records.
“This year more than ever, we’re just seeing such an incredible increase in demand, and I think at this point we’re calling it a cost of living crisis. The reality is that more and more everyday Calgarians just are really struggling to make ends meet. So campaigns like this go a long way to helping us help them,” said Melissa From, CEO of the Calgary Food Bank.
She said that with the start of the winter season, the opportunities for Calgarians facing food insecurity to supplement their food intake with events like Stampede breakfasts and fresh garden-grown food have come to an end.
“We typically do see those increases as we go into the winter months, but the reality is that over the course of the last six to 12 months, we’ve gotten to a point where we’re basically operating at 110 per cent of capacity all the time,” From said.
“We don’t really have room within our system to allow for that cyclical nature because we’re just operating at 110 per cent.”
She said that the outpouring of support through events like Stuff-A-Bus was the good news story side of food insecurity, as Calgarians are aware and are stepping up to help address the crisis.
Dozens of Calgary Transit volunteers made event possible
Calgary Transit buses, along with volunteer Calgary Transit operators, were parked in front of Calgary Co-ops across the city to collect donations.
“The team has been working super hard, coordinating all the buses and getting out here today to make sure that we can be here, and we are here, to collect all the food and bring it back to the food bank,” said Sharon Fleming, Director of Calgary Transit.
“Luckily, it’s the weekend so we have an unlimited supply of buses that we can use to fill. We encourage Calgarians to get out there and stuff those buses so that we can use all the bus capacity we have in the city.”
She said that this year 70 operators volunteered their time to support the Stuff-A-Bus event, which represented the continued pride that Calgary Transit staff have taken to support the event over the past 31 years.
Ken Keelor, CEO of Calgary Co-op, said that they have participated in the event for decades because it has what the cooperative’s members have asked for.
“We are a for-profit business, but we’re also very much about the community, and that’s equally if not more important to us. Our member owners expect us to do this, and we do this on their behalf and our community that needs us as well as supports us,” Keelor said.
He said that the cooperatives’ support for the food bank goes beyond just a single day of the year. Co-op locations sell $10 bundles of items that are always in demand by the food bank, with donation bins in each store location.
Keelor said that they have kept the number of items in the bundles the same, with the same price, regardless of rising food costs and inflation.
Stuff-a-bus start of Mayor’s 35th Annual Christmas Food Drive
Mayor Jyoti Gondek was on hand at the Crowfoot Co-op location on Saturday morning to help stuff a bus herself, and to kick off the launch of the 35th annual Mayor’s Christmas Food Drive.
She thanked Calgarians for being compassionate this holiday season, and for getting involved in helping to address food insecurity.
“We’ve got a lot of neighbours who are in pretty vulnerable positions right now. These are folks who are struggling to make ends meet and put food on the table. We’ve got a lot of parents who are skipping meals to make sure their children are eating,” the mayor said.
“Any donation that any Calgarian can make towards the Calgary Food Bank will go a very, very long way.”
She said that the launch of the Councillor’s Challenge alongside the Mayor’s Challenge last year went a long way to helping build community spirit throughout December to get donations for the Calgary Food Bank.
“I think it’s that friendly rivalry that really gets people into the spirit of giving. It’s always a great idea when members of council can show leadership and step up to demonstrate that Calgarians do come together when we need to,” she said.
Councillor Raj Dhaliwal was awarded the coveted Golden Lettuce award last season after collecting over $19,000 in donations from Ward 5 residents for the Calgary Food Bank.
Mayor Gondek said that as a city council, the options available to them as a government were limited in addressing what has become a national crisis of food insecurity.
“When it comes to food insecurity and rising prices of food, there’s very little that council can do directly. That is simply not something that is within our government’s purview. However, we are very aware that it’s impacting the citizens that we’ve served,” she said.
“Councillor Walcott once said it best: People should be able to access food with dignity. The Calgary Food Bank is also an amazing resource where people can go for the little bit of help that they need. Calgary City Council, as well as the citizens of our city are absolutely trying to do our part to make sure we’re taking care of each other.”
She said that as a municipal government, they have continued to work with the province and the federal government to help them understand the unique challenges that Calgarians face.
“Both orders of government understand that we must do more, and we have to work together, and that’s what we’ll continue to do,” she said.