Food banks see spikes in demand as Albertans struggle with rising costs

·3 min read
The food bank in Calgary is hosting its 17th annual food drive this week at a time when demands are increasing. (Dave Gilson/CBC - image credit)
The food bank in Calgary is hosting its 17th annual food drive this week at a time when demands are increasing. (Dave Gilson/CBC - image credit)

Alberta food banks say they're feeling the strain of demand that has grown by 20 to 60 per cent year over year as families grapple with the rising cost of getting food on the table.

Families have seen the cost of things like beef, baked goods and eggs soar over the last year, and food bank staff in Calgary, Airdrie and Red Deer say they're seeing the impact at their doors.

"We're definitely up [in demand] and unfortunately, due to inflation, due to the cost of living, rising prices, we do expect to see continued increases," said Betty Jo Kaiser, the communications coordinator with the Calgary Food Bank.

"We distributed over 9,000 emergency food hampers in July. Last year we distributed 7,300," Kaiser said.

The Calgary organization collected nearly 250,000 kilograms of food last year. In July, it provided food to about 24,000 people, up from more than 18,000 a year earlier — an increase of 33 per cent year over year.

Kaiser says demand continued to grow over the summer, and she's expecting it to keep getting higher.

The charity launched its annual city-wide food drive this week.

Across the province

The demand among food banks isn't exclusive to Calgary.

Mitch Thompson with the Red Deer Food Bank says they're seeing similar trends and food banks are scrambling to keep up.

"We have people who are working and are just unable to keep up with the higher cost of food, the higher cost of fuel, the impact of higher interest rates," he said.

"Those impact working families, they impact individuals."

He says they've seen a 60 per cent year-over-year increase in demand each month in 2022.

Bryan Labby/CBC
Bryan Labby/CBC

Another food bank in the surrounding communities echoed the sentiment.

At the Airdrie Food Bank, hamper demand was up about 20 per cent over the first six months of 2022, compared to last year and that year-over-year demand for July and August was up nearly 50 per cent, says spokesperson Christine Taylor.

"There definitely hasn't been a lull," she said.  "We've had the uptick from years ago, but it's just unbelievable the numbers we're seeing right now and we're bracing for the holiday season."

She says they're seeing more families, more new food bank users and ongoing needs for children.

Demand for school lunch program on the rise

Brown Bagging For Calgary Kids (BB4CK) is a program that provides lunches for school-aged children from elementary through to high school.

Like other organizations, it has seen a sharp uptick in its numbers this year. The program is feeding 5,400 kids a day — an increase of 20 per cent from last year — in 220 schools across Calgary.

Bethany Ross, BB4CK's executive director, said there a number of reasons for the increase.

Bryan Labby/CBC
Bryan Labby/CBC

"There's lots of financial pressures on families, certainly the cost of food inflation is very real and we all see that at the grocery store and then the cost of housing and utility bills and, particularly this time of year, school fees and buying school supplies and back to school clothes all kind of add up," she said.

"We know that  lots of those other costs are fixed. It's hard to go to your landlord and say I can't pay my rent this month … but you can make the very difficult but very possible decision to spend less money at the grocery store this week."

Demand is only expected to increase.

By June 2023, BB4CK plans to have the capacity to feed 6,600 kids per day.

"We've planned for another 20 per cent increase this year, just based on what we're hearing from families and from schools," Ross said. "We always hope that the need goes down, but I don't know that that's a realistic possibility."