When you walk into the warehouse at the Calgary Food Bank, volunteers are keeping busy organizing an endless number of food hampers, while around them stand walls of food donations waiting to be eaten.
A busy day at the food bank is not an uncommon occurrence, especially at this time when it’s been about two to three years since the economic downturn in Calgary.
Many strategists suggest Calgary’s economy will be improving from its most recent downturn in 2014, but food services are noticing their clientele increasing.
According to CBC News, after the ups and downs of the Canadian economy, 2017 looks to be bringing about a better year, stating the job market is recovering, the price of oil and the dollar are slowly increasing, trade is picking up and the TSX is near an all-time high.
However, Calgary food services aren’t currently feeling the same way about 2017.
The Calgary Food Bank began 33 years ago in response to the economic downturn from the 1982 recession to try and lessen the hardship Calgarians were faced with.
Shawna Ogston, communications and media relations supervisor at the Calgary Food Bank, explains even though it has been between two to three years since Calgary’s most recent economic downturn, more people are in need of food services for help.
“People are using their [severance] packages from being laid off, they’re saving their other resources for friends and family and you can only stretch that for so long,” said Ogston.
“We know from the recession in 2008, our numbers really spiked in 2010. So it takes a couple years for everyone to use up their money, and we are seeing that happening now.”
Last year, the Calgary Food Bank had about 170,000 clients, where one in three were laid off and looking for work while about 40 per cent were children and 33 per cent were on fixed government benefits.
The food bank also states that food insecure Calgarians are giving up their meals in order to pay for other essentials such as rent, utilities, phone, transportation, child care, medical needs, education and vehicle repairs.
Ogston explains the Food Bank feels blessed with how they tend to never have a concern with the number of donations or volunteers because Calgarians are always willing to lend a hand. However, they are concerned about the quality of the donations.
“It’s about quality, not only the nutritional content of our hampers, so that families can get a leg up. We need quality food in order to get stronger and deal with the crisis within our lives.”
Every day they receive over 180 phone calls on their hamper request line. During calls, they assess needs, book emergency food hampers, and refer clients to agencies and resources.
The Calgary Food Bank is not the only one struggling with the impacts of Calgary’s economic downturn.
The Veterans Food Drive is in a similar situation. However, theirs is tailored to veterans who are in need of help, not all Calgarians. The drive helps over 1,500 veterans on an annual basis, since it first started 10 years ago.
Dave Howard, president of the Canadian Legacy Project which runs the Veterans Food Drive, decided to start the drive when he visited his grandfather in Vancouver, B.C., who was a veteran during World War II. Howard caught his grandfather eating dog food and felt disgusted that someone who served for their country would go hungry.
“They’ll eat dog food before accessing their food bank because they feel that it is for women and children,” said Howard.
“We’re starting to get better awareness in regards to that there is an actual separate Veterans Food Bank, and the reason that that’s there is the fact that our veterans are proud.”
Due to the economic downturn, Howard initially thought their support would decrease.
However, 2016 ended up being their most successful year when it came to the number of donations and volunteers.
“We’re getting a lot of individual donations and from schools now because we are actually speaking to schools. They are our number one supporter,” said Howard.
“Then we have a lot of corporate agents holding food drives and collecting money, so it’s getting better and better every year.”
The impact of the economic downturn has also affected university students. Amber Stallard, student initiatives programmer of the Student’s Association at Mount Royal University, oversees a variety of different projects at the school, including the Good Food Box.
The Good Food Box allows students to purchase fresh and affordable healthy fruits and vegetables, so students can worry less about the cost of travelling to grocery stores and the cost of the store’s produce.
There are three options with the Good Food Box: a large box containing 40 to 45 pounds of produce for $35, a medium box containing 30 to 35 pounds of produce for $30, or a small box containing 20 to 25 pounds of produce for $25.
Stallard explains the Good Food Box tailors more to those who are looking for a more affordable option than being in an emergency situation.
However, she says Mount Royal University’s Food Bank Depot, which works through the Calgary Food Bank, has seen an impact.
“People can apply for food hampers, we have seen services on that end go up, but it’s been pretty steady, about 10 to 15 people [for the Good Food Box],” said Stallard.
In order to receive a food hamper, the student must meet criteria and apply. However, the biggest worry around the Good Food Box is awareness because word-of-mouth isn’t as strong, not just at Mount Royal, but everywhere.
“Until I was doing this job, I didn’t even know that was a program that existed in the community for people that need fresh produce at a cheaper cost and so yeah, getting awareness is more so our challenge.”
- By MacKenzie Gellner