Calgary Food Bank not surprised with national report data

People who work but simply can’t bank enough to fill the fridge are increasingly among those turning to food banks, according to new data from Food Banks Canada.

Food Banks Canada’s annual Hunger Count report was released Wednesday, showing the usage of the resource has reached its highest level in decades.

The new data shows nearly two million people used food banks in March 2023 — a hike of 32 per cent from the same period last year.

Seniors, single mothers, low-income workers, people on social assistance, and immigrants continue to drive food bank use, but this year’s report showed a rise in use among working people in higher income brackets.

More than 40 per cent of users are on provincial social assistance programs, the report said, with stagnant payments that put most recipients under the official poverty line.

Findings also show a 78 per cent increase in food bank clients since 2019.

Melissa From, president and CEO of the Calgary Food Bank, says Alberta places third among the hardest hit provinces and the report simply underscores what they see all the time in Calgary.

“The reality is we are living this every day and seeing the increase in demand,” she told CityNews. “Unfortuantely it’s really not suprising.”

The nationwide data show 17 per cent of food bank clients are working — and that’s reflected here in Calgary.

“Almost a third of the clients were are serving are children and almost a third are working,” From said. “So, this is folks who are going to work everyday. They have a job but because of other pressures they just can’t make ends meet, so they are having to lean on organizations like the Calgary Food Bank just to get by.”

She says the organization is also seeing more people using the resource for the first time.

Unique factors in Calgary, including a higher level of immigration, an influx of Ukrainian refugees, and people moving here from other provinces, effect the number of people who turn to the food bank, given they need time to settle and get on their feet, From adds.

More than a quarter of food bank users are immigrants who have been in Canada for less than a decade, the report said, a usage rate that has doubled since 2016.

“Alberta is doing pretty well in terms of our economy which is probably a bit of a saving grace for us,” she said. “But the reality is [with) inflation and the increased interest rate and mortgage rates — those sorts of things are hitting Canadians from cost to coast — and Alberta is no different.”

Indigenous people are disproportionately represented among food bank users at 12 per cent, while making up around five per cent of the general population, the report said.

According to From, the food bank has seen an increase in demand of nearly 100 per cent over the past year.

Last September, she says they handed out 350 to 400 emergency food hampers per day, and this year, they’ve doled out about 700 a day.

“The great thing about Calgarians is that when folks need help, they step up,” From said. “We’ve seen the increase in demand but are so supported by the community we have been able to keep pace.”

That said, From concedes she is nervous they might see some fatigue in that support as the increases continue to happen — potentially impacting their ability to keep up with demand.

Food Banks Canada’s Hunger Count, she says, is a great snapshot for community partners and all levels of governemtn to “recognize the impact of inflation and increase in interst rates on everyday citizens.”

Report recommendations include better support for low income earners and seniors on fixed incomes and increasing affordable housing numbers.

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