Calgary

Alberta families resort to food banks as pandemic support programs dry up

Alberta food banks say they're starting to see an increase in demand, which may be due to people hitting the end of COVID-19-related government support programs.

Demand increasing across province as many families face 'very uncertain season'

Some Alberta food banks say they've been seeing an increase in demand over the past few weeks. (CBC)

Alberta food banks say they're starting to see an increase in demand, which may be due to people hitting the end of COVID-19-related government support programs.

Airdrie Food Bank executive director Lori McRitchie says she started to notice an uptick about two weeks ago. Many of the clients are new and have children, she says.

"There's a lot of factors that are impacting families and how they're feeling about entering into this fall and a very uncertain season," she said.

The federal government announced in late August that it would be extending the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) by one more month and revamping the employment insurance program to allow more people to receive financial assistance during COVID-19.

The federal government also introduced three additional programs proposed for those who do not qualify for EI.

  • Self-employed or gig workers, for example, can apply for a benefit of up to $400 a week for up to 26 weeks if they have stopped working or had reduced incomes due to COVID-19.
  • A second new benefit will provide 10 days of paid sick leave to any worker in Canada who falls ill or has to self-isolate due to COVID-19. 
  • A third benefit will support Canadians who must stay home to care for a child under 12 or another dependent because their school, daycare or other day program facility is shut down due to COVID. 

After the pandemic hit, some food banks experienced increased demand as well as shortages of food, volunteers and funding.

While many of those challenges remain, some of that demand levelled off as government assistance programs kicked in, allowing food banks to catch up and restock.

Food Banks Alberta senior project manager Arianna Johnson says operators have been stockpiling and planning ahead as they expect demand to heat up as assistance programs change or wind down.

"We know that things are tough in Alberta right now and so we want to make it as easy for people as possible," she said.

She says public and government support helped food banks get through the summer but continued support will be needed in the weeks and months ahead.

With files from Dave Gilson

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