The food bank in the normally booming city at the centre of Alberta’s oilsands region has seen a dramatic increase in demand this winter.
The Wood Buffalo Food Bank in Fort McMurray handed out 75 per cent more hampers this January than it did in the same month last year.
“I would love to blame it all on the price of oil,” said executive director Arianna Johnson. “However, I don’t necessarily think that is the sole reason.”
She thinks some of the recent increase is due to the higher costs of utilities this winter.
“About 10 per cent of the people we saw in January, we saw them because they lost their employment.”
About a third of the food bank's clients, she said, are people who do have jobs but don’t earn enough to make ends meet.
In December 2013, the food bank gathered enough donations from its annual Syncrude Food Drive to last for six months.
That wasn’t the case in December 2014, when the drive produced roughly the same amount of food but didn’t yield enough of certain staple items to keep up with the increase in demand.
“We normally do not purchase non-perishable food items until June or later,” said Krista Penner, warehouse manager at the food bank. “However, in the month of January we were forced to purchase non-perishable essential items in order to keep up with demand.”
If the price of oil remains low, Johnson expects the food bank's client list will continue to grow.
People who get laid off in the oil industry often don’t live in Fort McMurray full-time, she said.
“They’ll be impacting food banks in their home communities more than us.”