New food bank for military veterans opens in Edmonton
'It's so hard to take off that suit of armour to ask for help ourselves'
A new food bank for military veterans is helping reach people who sometimes have difficulty seeking support.
The Veterans Association Food Bank is providing food hampers to veterans and their families.
Now open at 17218 107th Ave., the food bank will mark its grand opening Nov. 1. It is already open — accepting donations and volunteers, and providing food hampers to veterans.
Operations manager Bruce Given said it's important that veterans see a recognizable group they can reach out to for help.
"We respond better to resources that are related to us than outside sources."
Given has felt that first-hand. A veteran himself, he needed assistance from a food bank in the past but convinced himself others needed it more than he did. He looked for more limited resources elsewhere.
His organization's hope is that a system of veterans helping veterans will motivate more of them to seek help when they need it.
The new food bank in Edmonton was only possible after the same group found success with the Veterans Association Food Bank in Calgary, which opened in 2018.
Once there was enough community support and resources available in Calgary, Given said they tested out some food hamper deliveries in Edmonton. The group also held a curbside potluck and other events, testing the waters before opening a full food bank service.
Given said the group plans to work beyond Edmonton city limits. It will offer food hampers to veterans in northern and central Alberta, north of Red Deer.
The food bank also wants to use peer support groups and social activities to offer support to veterans who are feeling isolated or have other mental health concerns, Given said.
The group also plans to offer referrals to medical and mental health supports, assistance with veterans affairs claims and disability tax forms, and emergency help for people in immediate need.
The goal is to help build a sense of camaraderie and community, Given said.
"There's a rebuilding and potential to reconnect with the lost connections that we had as we drift away from our military service," he said. "There's a huge response to coming back and building that brotherhood or sisterhood."
Given has already seen the model succeed in Calgary, where services range from addiction support meetings to social events. The sense of community is strong enough that former clients become dedicated contributors and volunteers later.
He hopes to build a similar sense of belonging among veterans in Edmonton, he said.