Calgary’s Women in Need Society takes aim at food insecurity

A Calgary charity is still waiting for support from the province to help single parents and Ukrainian and Afghan refugees.

The Women in Need Society (WINS), which supports women and children, has been dealing with a dramatic increase in people who need help, with the refugee situation adding to that.

One of their partner organizations is the Calgary Food Bank.

WINS has just launched a campaign asking for the donation of gift cards, as not all the food families need is covered by the food bank.

President and CEO of WINS, Karen Ramchuk, says the charity is seeing firsthand the impact of record-high inflation.

“Alberta has recently been declared the most food insecure province with one in five Albertans wondering where their next meal is coming from,” she said. “That’s over 20 per cent of Alberta households that are feeling the food insecurity.”

“The food bank’s one of our closest partners [and] the demand from the [Calgary] Food Bank is up 44 per cent,” Ramchuk added. “But with the diverse people in the community, the Food Bank cannot fulfill all of our needs. And sometimes there is wait times to get to the Food Bank and sometimes there are barriers in actually getting physically to the Food Bank.”

Ramchuk says with the dramatic demand the Calgary Food Bank has been facing, they have stepped up to help and be of service in any way they can.

“Sometimes the need for emergency food is dire and critical. So that’s where WINS really steps in. We still do refer people to the Food Bank after the fact to help them on their way but it’s that short term gap that’s so important. If you don’t know how you’re going to get food to feed your family that night for dinner you’re not going to be able to move forward and function.”

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“I have yet to see a time where we’re facing a crisis and Calgarians don’t step up to the plate to help,” she said.

Ramchuk adds that single-parent households in particular are struggling to keep afloat during these trying times.

“As you may know when you think of vulnerable populations the majority of the people that fall into that vulnerable population is actually single moms with kids,” she said. “So at WINS, we support women and children and the needs that we’re seeing has increased dramatically. And winter’s coming so we know that costs are just going to be going even higher.”

“So we thought it was time and important for us to launch a campaign ‘Called Dignity for All Campaign’ where we go out to Calgarians and ask them to donate grocery gift cards at any WINS location that we can therefore use and pay forward to women and children,” Ramchuk explained.

If single mothers can’t get help, she says many women face having to return to a bad domestic situation.

One example Ramchuk gices involved a woman with two kids who recently got out of the shelter and into her home. As she got into her home, she had a Food Bank referral but couldn’t get to the facility until the next week. She had to wait a week until she could go and receive her pickup.

That’s where WINS stepped in and provided her with not only emergency food but also assisted with the rest of her basic needs including a bed for her kids and a dining table.

“Without that type of help that WINS kicked in she told us she would have gone back to the domestic violence situation she left because she couldn’t find her way forward, she didn’t know what to do,” Ramchuk said.

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WINS was already dealing with a major spike in demand to help women and children, Ramchuk says, adding the charity is now trying to support refugees, including Afghan and Ukrainian arrivals.

On average, WINS helps 15,000 Calgarians and half of them are newcomers.

As for the refugees, Ramchuk says those grocery cards also help them buy what they’re used to because they often don’t know how to prepare the food they get from the food bank. She said that in these instances, their clients had received a Food Bank referral but didn’t know how to cook the food they were unfamiliar with.

Ramchuk says WINS provided cooking lessons and gift cards so they could purchase food according to their cultural and dietary preference.

Other instances include a client that struggled with celiac disease and had to eat food from the Food Bank with gluten in it which was making her sick. WINS stepped in and provided her with grocery store vouchers so she could buy gluten-free items.

Some ways Calgarians can help is to donate directly to the campaign online, and purchase any product from one of the many local WINS thrift store locations as all the proceeds go to supporting up to 80 per cent of the cost of their programs.

You can also donate must-needed items for their wish list like sweaters, and household furniture.

–With files from Lisa Grant

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