Calgarians 'can't make ends meet' as national food bank use hits highest recorded level

Calgary Food Bank workers sorting through a delivery of food from Calgary Co-Op on Nov. 2, 2022.  (James Young/CBC - image credit)
Calgary Food Bank workers sorting through a delivery of food from Calgary Co-Op on Nov. 2, 2022. (James Young/CBC - image credit)

The head of the Calgary Food Bank says a new report showing national food bank use has risen to the highest levels on record highlights an affordability issue in Calgary and across the country.

A new report from Food Banks Canada released this week found that in 2023 food bank usage rose to its highest level since the survey started in 1989.

Melissa From, president and CEO of the Calgary Food Bank, said what they're seeing locally matches up with the report's findings.

In September 2019, she said, there were about 300 households a day coming to the Calgary Food Bank for emergency food hampers.

In September 2023, that number increased to around 700 households a day.

While the report said the most common income source for food bank clients is provincial social assistance, From noted many of the people they see are employed.

"They have jobs, and with all of the inflation and the mortgage rate increases and all of those other things, they just simply can't make ends meet," she said.

"That's very telling, and I think that speaks a lot to the inflationary environment we're in. Of course, we need to look at making sure our compensation aligns with the inflationary environment that we're in, and so it's just a bit of a perfect storm right now."

The annual HungerCount report compiles surveys from food security organizations across the country as well as food bank usage.

Melissa From is the president and CEO of the Calgary Food Bank.
Melissa From is the president and CEO of the Calgary Food Bank.

Melissa From is the president and CEO of the Calgary Food Bank. She said demand is high for food bank items, but Calgarians have been supportive. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

The report said as inflation continued to accelerate throughout last year and into 2023 at levels not seen in 40 years, households in Canada saw a dramatic drop in their purchasing power.

"This drop substantially affected not only those in the lowest-income households, but also those in higher income brackets. People who were just managing to make ends meet before — including an increasing proportion of people who are employed — now found themselves struggling," the report said.

Low social assistance rates provincially are also a factor in high food bank usage, the report found, specifically touching on correlations with social assistance caseloads and food bank use in both Toronto and Calgary.

The report found that one-third of food bank clients are children. From said that's a statistic that stood out to her.

"These are obviously adults and caregivers who are coming to the food bank and subscribing to emergency food hampers on behalf of their family. That includes minor children. And for us at the Calgary Food Bank right now, almost 30 per cent of our emergency food hamper clients are children," she said.

The Calgary Food Bank isn't the only food bank in the city that has felt a squeeze.

CBC previously reported food banks and services at Alberta post-secondary institutions saw approximately double the demand for food from students this academic year, compared to the previous year.

The University of Calgary's Students' Union Food Bank completed 526 requests for food hampers in the 2022-2023 academic year, up from a total of 227 the year prior.

Food Banks Canada offered several recommendations to help alleviate food insecurity, including better support for those on low incomes, providing more affordable housing and creating better financial supports for seniors on fixed pensions.

The key, it said, is to address low incomes as well as the skyrocketing costs of living — not one or the other.

From said that while demand is high and the need is great, the silver lining is they have seen an outpouring of support from Calgarians.

"The incredible thing about our community is just how generous individuals are, and in times like this folks step up. And so we have actually been able to keep pace with that demand."