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Fort McMurray charities see higher need for holiday donations

Fort McMurray charities are seeing more need and fewer donations as the effects of the 2016 wildfire and a lagging local economy continue to linger.

'We are also finding people who were donors — this year they have to be recipients,' says charity organizer

One of the season’s largest charity campaigns, Santas Anonymous, is in its final push to collect toys. (David Thurton/ CBC)

Fort McMurray charities are seeing more need and fewer donations as the effects of the 2016 wildfire and a lagging local economy continue to linger.

One of the season's largest charity campaigns, Santas Anonymous, is in its final push to collect toys and other items for about 1,000 families who have signed up this year.

"We need to remember you can't recover from a disaster in one year," said Arianna Johnson, executive director of the Wood Buffalo Food Bank. "It takes many, many years."

A charitable drive that's run out of Father Mercredi High School has also seen increasing demand this year.

"This will be our record year. We are definitely in demand this year. It just keeps growing," said Jo-Ann Sloan, the high school's office manager and a volunteer with the campaign.

Organizers are still looking for volunteers to deliver hampers, toys and stocking stuffers.

15 to 20 per cent increase in need

The city's Salvation Army kettle campaign has reduced its fundraising goal this year from $190,000 to $160,000, given the economic climate.

Last year, the campaign was about $38,000 short of its goal, although local businesses eventually stepped in to meet the need, Maj. Stephen Hibbs said.

"We're anticipating about 15 to 20 per cent increase in need of what we've been seeing leading up to this time," Hibbs said. "We are also finding people who were donors — this year they have to be recipients."

He added, "That's simply because they either had their hours or time cut at work or have not returned to work full-time. "

The campaign has currently met 80 per cent of its goal.

Salvation Army kettlers in Fort McMurray are out in supermarkets making one last push for donations to meet fundraising goals. (David Thurton/ CBC News)

'Certainly linked to the economy'

The annual Fort McMurray Community Christmas Day Dinner typically serves more than 500 meals to residents in need.

The dinner has seen many turkeys and in-kind donations this year, but it still needs cash donations to buy ingredients needed to make side dishes, as well as to buy paper plates and utensils.

Mike Daley, chairman of the dinner, said his committee is still short half of the $3,500 to $4,000 needed to host the dinner.

"While we do see a good supply of donations in kind, the cash is down in the community — certainly linked to the economy," Daley said. 

Johnson said the Wood Buffalo Food Bank saw twice as many clients this year compared to 2015. Many of those, Johnson said, are seniors.

Arianna Johnson, executive director of the Wood Buffalo Food Bank. (David Thurton/ CBC)

While some families are back at work, many still have to pay off debts they've accumulated, Johnson said. 

"We are the first to see recession and we are the last to recover from it," Johnson said.

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitter and email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Thurton is a national reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He's worked for CBC in Fort McMurray, the Maritimes and in Canada's Arctic.

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