Flood portrayed province as "disconnected" from non-profits

thumb  DSC0585 resizeWith many people displaced and out of work as a result of the June flood, the need for emergency food jumped.

The Calgary Inter-Faith Food Bank has seen the demand increase by 10 per cent, and this could rise as the long-term financial affects of recovering from the flooding crisis have yet to play out.

But the need for food support existed long before the Bow River overflowed.

Eleven years ago Kat MacNabb decided to gain some independence. At 18, she left her childhood home to live with her then-boyfriend. But she soon found herself waiting in line at the food bank.

"It was my first time on my own and I don't think I actually really realized how much things cost when you're on your own, so I had to sacrifice something," MacNabb said. DSC0579 resizeA volunteer drops off donation bags for the Calgary Inter-Faith Food Bank annual drive. It’s only through events like these and the generosity of Calgarians and companies that the food bank can stay open, as they receive no government funding.
Photo by Devon Jolie

MacNabb is not alone.

From September 2011 to August 2012, the Calgary Inter-Faith Food Bank handed out $27.4 million worth of food during times of individual crisis.

But despite the apparent need for what many of us consider to be one of the most basic needs, government funding for food banks in Alberta is almost non-existent.

Calgary Inter-Faith Food Bank CEO, James McAra, said nearly all of their funding comes from generous citizens, companies and organizations.

"Food banks are relatively new to the social fabric... government has a difficult time grappling with the perceived failure to support our citizens or our community adequately during a period of crisis," McAra said.

McAra said that government has been a source of financial support for specific tasks relating to infrastructure like buying a new fridge-freezer. But food banks are barred from using the funds to keep their shelves stocked.

MacNabb said that while government involvement would be "nice," she worries that if the government became more financially involved that qualifying for support would be much more difficult.

Programs in place

Brenda Wady, communications manager with Alberta Human Services, said the government funds programs such as income support and homeless initiatives, through which a person can get food support.

But if you're a working Calgarian who can't make ends meet that month, the food bank is where you have to go for your emergency hamper.

Another source of funding is the Family and Community Support Services Program which moves funds from the province to municipalities, who then can give grants to local charities. But, as outlined in the Family and Community Support Services Regulation, to qualify for these grants, services "must not... offer direct assistance, including money, food, clothing or shelter, to sustain an individual or family."

 DSC0585 resizeThe food bank seeks donations of food, time and money because food banks receive little government support as they are considered a duplication of services.
Photo by Devon Jolie
Sharlyn White, executive director of the Family and Community Support Services Association of Alberta, said that the regulation is in place to prevent a duplication of services as those direct supports can be accessed in other ways. She says that the funding received from the program could be used for administration and distribution of food.

McAra said some programs have tweaked their missions and programs to get access to these funds.

Further action needed

And McAra wants government involvement to go beyond funding.

He points out the recent flooding as a case-in-point. As disaster response gripped the provincial government for days, charitable agencies working, in many cases, directly with flood victims "were not included nor invited into the discussion," McAra said.

But McAra praised the civic response team for their reaction and willingness to connect with the food bank and ensure that both groups were in the loop on the flood response efforts.

"I can't say enough about disaster services for including us in that discussion because that has not happened in the past," McAra said.

He hopes that this cooperation can be fostered in other levels of government to gain an understanding of what causes someone to need the direct support offered by organizations like the food bank.

"But you must be prepared to put into play supports for people while they are getting rid of the situation that caused them to need food."

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