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Fort McMurray Salvation Army faces $75,000 deficit in food budget

With a $75,000 funding deficit and an increase in demand, the Fort McMurray Salvation Army is finding new ways to raise money.

'Food is a right ... it's not something we would ever cut,' says program manager

The Salvation Army is serving bagged lunches to patrons who can't go to the Salvation Army during meal-serving hours. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

With a $75,000 funding deficit and an increase in demand, the Fort McMurray Salvation Army is finding new ways to raise money.

Typically the non-profit gets money for its food program from the United Way.

But this year, the Salvation Army only received about two-thirds of the funding it normally receives from the organization.

"Food is a right," said Kate Penney, program manager of the Salvation Army. "It's not something we would ever cut."

From January to May 2018, the Salvation Army served 2,520 bagged lunches; for the same time period in 2019, the number increased to 5,320.

They're hosting a fundraiser on June 15 called Christmas in June to try to raise money for the food program, Penney said.

Program manager Kate Penney says the Salvation Army is helping more and more clients. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

They're seeing more and more people requesting food, people they haven't typically seen in the past, she said.

"We're seeing people with more complex needs coming. We're seeing people who have relapsed. We're seeing people who have difficulty finding work. We're seeing a more aged population."

People have been staying at the shelter longer periods, she said, because they're struggling to find work.

Bagged lunches are one program that has seen an increase in demand.

The bagged lunches are for people to pick up, because many are on shift work and can't go to the Salvation Army during regular meal hours.

"We found there were people who were really hungry and people would tell us they hadn't eaten for two days."

Ricky Piche has started beading again, a craft his grandmother taught him. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Ricky Piche, 53, has been staying at the Salvation Army for about a month, and said it has helped him get back on his feet.

A residential school survivor, Piche has battled alcohol and drug addictions since he was about 11 years old.

"I'm grateful I'm still alive," said Piche, who has been sober for just over a month. "I want a different life for myself."

Piche said he has suffered a lot of abuse in his life, especially in residential school, and used drugs and alcohol as a way to numb the pain.

By the end of the month, he should have enough money to rent a room and "have my own privacy."

Ricky Piche has been beading necklaces with cross pendants, and has sold a few to make money. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Piche plans to volunteer at the Christmas in June event, and will be one of the guest speakers.

He has never spoken to a large group of people before but said he wants to "bring awareness to people. And why people are into addictions so much. It's because they don't want to feel."

Lead pastor Stephen Hibbs said the Salvation Army is short more than $75,000 because of increased demand.

The organization is not currently at risk of cutting programs, and will work hard to make sure it doesn't have to in the future, he said.

"People absolutely matter," Hibbs said. "And to have somewhere to go when you feel like there's nowhere to go, it's got to bring hope."

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