Edmonton

Food Banks Canada data suggests Albertans using food banks more than ever before

Since 2019 the number of people visiting food banks in Alberta has increased by over 70 per cent. 

Food costs, low provincial social assistance rates, and housing costs cited as top reasons for food bank use

A shelf with a lot of empty space and some applesauce.
Many food banks are seeing shelves emptied faster than they can refill them. (John Ngala/CBC)

The number of people visiting food banks in Alberta has increased by 73 per cent since 2019, new data from Food Banks Canada shows.

Food Banks Canada released its annual Hunger Count on Thursday. The report shows despite unemployment being the lowest the country has seen since 1976, the number of food bank visits is the highest it has ever been. 

The number of food bank visits in Alberta hit 156,000 in March, with one-third of those visits coming from children.

Food bank visits by Albertans that month were up 34 per cent compared to a year earlier, the report says.

Food Banks Canada's survey showed the top three reasons people accessed a food bank this year were food costs, low provincial social assistance rates, and housing costs. 

Tamisan Bencz-Knight, spokesperson for Edmonton's Food Bank, says Alberta is experiencing a crisis, and it's difficult to witness.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, food bank visits in Alberta and across the country have skyrocketed with the highest year-over-year increase since 2008.

Bencz-Knight says such an increase is too extreme for most organizations to handle.

"It's been a very difficult thing for us to navigate as an organization. We're fortunate to have the support of the community but how do you scale up an operation by 34 per cent in one year?"

The report suggests provincial social assistance is the main source of income for nearly 50 per cent of food bank clients. 

Shani-Emrys Russell has severe dietary restrictions and disabilities and visits food banks in Edmonton. Russell said over the last year the products they have access to has declined.

"It's sad because other people are walking out of there with two or three boxes and I'm walking out of there with one grocery bag with a couple of carrots, a box of rice, cauliflower, and cheese sauce," Russell said.

Russell says they used food banks before the pandemic and often had access to ingredients and foods that fell in line with their celiac disease and allergies, but for the last year it has been difficult to sustain their health.

"Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches is one of my favourite comfort foods and I can't afford it," Russell told the CBC through tears.

"I didn't really realize how bad it was until I looked at myself in the mirror with my shirt off  … and I didn't recognize myself. I was a skeleton."

Edmontonians unite to help 

In the report, Food Banks Canada calls the new numbers "a shift from a storm to a hurricane." 

Tina Bryan, who runs the Facebook group Edmonton Helping Hands — a platform for people to ask and provide basic necessities — says the demand for food is the highest she's ever seen, especially from people who are unable to access food banks or simply need more. 

"We started the group because for single parents like myself,  we're always looking for furniture, clothing, and food but, now it's always food. Everybody's looking for food," Bryan said.

Tina Bryan uses her Facebook group to collect and deliver food for Edmontonians facing food insecurity. (Submitted by Tina Bryan)

Bryan is a single mother to seven children and told CBC that after her husband died four years ago she started using food banks but realized for her and many others it was not enough.

Although Bryan says she struggles with financial hardships she refuses to let other people go hungry.

"People send me pictures of their fridge and there's absolutely nothing in it. I see it every day and I feel sad for them.

"I'll take meat out of my freezer and give it to somebody if I have it. Because as soon as I get donations, they come in and they're gone the same day."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Katarina Szulc is a reporter for CBC News in Edmonton. She previously worked at CityNews 1130 in Vancouver. You can email story ideas to Katarina.Szulc@cbc.ca.

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