Fort McMurray food bank usage expected to double
'It's heartbreaking the amount of food we've had to throw out,' executive director says
As financial pressures grow for Fort McMurray's returning residents, the food bank is preparing to help twice as many clients as it served before the wildfire.
'While government and Red Cross assistance is helpful, many in this region were already stretched to the maximum capacity and now will be even more stretched," said executive director Arianna Johnson, whose agency helped 500 families monthly before the wildfire.
"We really need to be open to help those people."
Johnson had hoped to reopen as residents began arriving this week, but the province did not classify the food bank as a tier-one essential service.
She pointed out her clients couldn't afford groceries before the evacuation, couldn't afford to continue living elsewhere, and likely couldn't afford to buy two weeks of groceries as advised by officials.
"We're not open yet," she said. "If you're opening a grocery store, you need to open a food bank. That grocery store is of no use to them."
That question has been put to the Alberta government but CBC News has not yet received a response.
Since their return, Johnson and her team have cleaned up the ash that had made its way into the downtown building with the help of local safety and cleaning companies that offered their services for free.
The hardest part was throwing out about half of their food stock they worked so hard to raise throughout the year. Anything that wasn't hermetically sealed — bags, boxes and jars of food — had to go.
"It's heartbreaking the amount of food we've had to throw out," said Johnson.
Volunteers stepped in to help decontaminate the remaining canned food. Team Rubicon, a global volunteer group of veterans, first responders and civilians, salvaged 8,400 kilograms of food in two days.
Johnson is aiming to re-open the food bank next week.