'I still think it's the economy': Rural Alberta food banks face big demand

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'I still think it's the economy': Rural Alberta food banks face big demand

'I still think it's the economy': Rural Alberta food banks face big demand

Some rural food banks in southern Alberta are still seeing recession-level demand for their services, despite signs the economy is on the rebound.

"I still think it's the economy," Sheila Hughes of the Okotoks Food Bank Association told CBC News.

"There is still a lack of jobs around, a lack of full-time jobs. A lot of people have run out of their EI now so they are struggling with not having any income at all."

However, Hughes says the year-over-year increase has slowed after a huge jump in the last two years.

"The increase between 2014 and 2016 was 96 per cent, so those are staggering numbers. Now we are seeing anywhere from five per cent to 15 per cent."

Extra little bit 'to get them through'

In March, the Okotoks Food Bank helped 135 families. Before the downturn, that number hovered between 40 and 60 families a month, Hughes explained.

April Pitts says in the three years she's been a volunteer, it's the people who use the service that stand out to her.

"The normalcy of the people who are coming," Pitts said.

"You have a picture in your mind before you work here, you have a different picture of them, but they are just normal people trying to do day-to-day life and they just need that little extra to get them through."

Combination of factors

Kelly Fifield of the Salvation Army Food Bank in nearby High River says the floods of 2013 added additional pressures when combined with the economic situation.

"After the flood we definitely saw our usage go up, people in need, people seeking assistance, and then just with the economy and where things have been over the last few years, they have kind of rolled into each other," Fifield said.

"We are still seeing new families come into our food bank, those that have been laid off, their EI is now running out and so they are now seeking assistance as well."

'Heart wrenching'

Last month the High River food bank served 121 families, up slightly from previous months where they averaged 110 families.

Meanwhile, Hughes says there's good support from community members and businesses.

"The stories I hear from the families are heart wrenching," she said.

"The downturn is not gone, I don't even know if it's really on the uptake yet. I think there are an awful lot of people struggling, I think there are an awful lot of people who don't come to the food bank who could or should. If people need help, we are just here to help."