19 per cent of Grande Prairie residents accessing food bank

The City of Grande Prairie is facing a food crisis, reports the Salvation Army, citing increasing demands on the food bank and community kitchen.

“We have 19 per cent of individuals who have access the food bank in 2021,” said Captain Peter Kim, Grande Prairie Salvation Army executive director.

“Based on our population, that works out to close to one in five individuals in our community, and 44 per cent of (those) were under the age of 18.”

Rising food and fuel costs as well as inflation are factors, said Kim.

“It's not just the homeless; it is working families.

“It's people who are struggling to get by, people who are without incomes and just trying to make ends meet, or deciding whether they're going to pay rent or eat.”

Kim says the Salvation Army has also seen a three per cent increase in seniors accessing the food bank.

“That's anywhere from an average of 220 seniors to now 750 (or more) seniors who are accessing the food bank because they are on fixed incomes and it's hard to get by with what they have and with the cost of food,” explains Kim.

At the same time, he said the food bank is dealing with a decline in donations, likely due to those same high food costs.

Monetary donations don’t hold as much value to clients as they did a year ago, notes Kim.

“If we give out a $100 gift card back in the past, it was worth $100, but now if we give $100 gift cards, it’s worth (more like) $50, so you're not getting as much from the donation, but it's the best we can do with the funds that we have currently.”

Kim said the Salvation Army in the past has worked with the Rotary Club’s food drive, which on average brings in 45 tons of food, this year, they were only able to bring in 30.

“That’s great, but it's not enough to meet the needs and the demands that we're seeing.”

Kim took the concerns to city council last Monday (Oct. 17), looking for $200,000 in aid, to be split equally between the food bank and the community kitchen.

The community kitchen is run by the Salvation Army and the Grande Prairie Friendship Centre for those in need of a meal.

The kitchen averaged 35,000 meals in years prior; last year, it rose to 45,000 meals, and this year it is already at 58,000 meals. That number is expected to top 80,000 this year.

City council pushed the ask to the fall budget deliberations in mid-November.

“I think council has been a bit aware through Vital Signs and other connections that we make through the community that food security and instability is a growing issue in every community, and Grande Prairie is not immune to that,” said coun. Chris Thiessen.

He said because of the sizable ask for funds, he wanted to see all of council in attendance to make the decision. Coun. Gladys Blackmore was absent from Monday’s council meeting, the same day as the city byelection where Wade Pilat was elected.

Coun. Dylan Bressey said affordability is an issue, and the city is working hard on finding solutions.

“First and foremost, we got to get food up on the plate,” said Thiessen.

Still, it’s not just the municipality that is being approached.

“We need help from not just the city but from businesses and from corporate donors,” said Kim.

“We are feeding our community who are hungry but we are desperate to have more donations, and we need the community support because this is the way we operate.

“We operate based on the community's generosity.”

He says the community has been generous in the past, but given the current environment and impending economic downturn, some people have nothing left to give.

The best thing anyone can do to help is to donate, said Kim.

“Monetary donations are the best because we're able to then utilize that for gift cards; for example, we'd be able to hand out gift cards as opposed to a hamper because we just don't have enough food in our warehouse to meet the demand.”

He also noted that people can donate their time manning the donation kettles as well; it;s been difficult in the last two years to volunteers.

“There are a lot of generous community members and businesses that have always stepped up to the plate, and we're just asking for additional help at this point.”

Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News