Food bank usage among seniors has skyrocketed in the Fort McMurray region since a devastating wildfire destroyed hundreds of homes in the northern Alberta city.
Before the May 2016 wildfire, the food bank typically served about 20 seniors each month, said Arianna Johnson, executive director of the Wood Buffalo Food Bank. In August 2017, the food bank served 125 seniors. In September it helped 95.
"The story is there's continuous significant increase in the usage of the food bank month over month," Johnson said. "Seniors are our largest growing population."
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Johnson thinks one reason for the increase is that more seniors lost homes in the wildfire. Non-profit societies in the community have also mobilized and done a better job connecting seniors with help.
The food bank has partnered with the St. Aidan's Society, a support group for seniors in the region.
More seniors have needed help because families split up after the wildfire and the economy suffered a downturn in 2014, Johnson said.
Some seniors also experience financial abuse, as they do in other parts of the country, she said.
To help meet the increased need in November, the food bank is urging donors to support the 25th anniversary of its Syncrude food drive.
The St. Aidan's Society has also seen a significant increase in need since the wildfire and over the last couple of months, said executive director Luana Bussieres.
Seniors who lost their homes are running out of living allowances from insurance, Bussieres said, and the society is seeing clients with increased health problems since the wildfire.
"Sometimes it's a matter of making a choice," she said. "Do you buy extra food or do you pay for your medication?
"And of course, you pay for your medication."