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article imageOp-Ed: Spotlight on Calgary Food Bank as its use spikes due to layoffs Special

By Grace C. Visconti     Mar 15, 2016 in Food
Calgary - The Calgary Food Bank, one of the biggest food banks in Canada, has been extremely busy lately with its use up by 23 percent more than the previous year.
With steady layoffs from the low price of oil, many industry sectors and Calgarians have been affected.
The Calgary Food Bank, one of the biggest food banks in Canada, has been very busy lately with individuals and families utilizing this much needed resource. It has been a difficult time because of steady layoffs in many industry sectors due to the low price of oil. But Calgarians have shown their grit, determination, and kindness during this crisis just as they did when they rescued and assisted coworkers, family, friends, neighbors, strangers and pets during the devastating 2013 Calgary flood. Adversity did not defeat them. Instead, Calgarians came together in a unanimous show of support.
During the 1982 energy crisis and economic downturn when people reluctantly walked out of their homes, gave up their cars and jobs, the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank was formed as a charitable organization.
Communications and Media Relations rep Shawn Ogston for the Calgary Food Bank describes its humble beginnings. “The reason why it was called the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank initially was because three faith groups were supplying food needs to people due to the 1982 energy crisis. The food bank was started with compassionate intentions for Calgarians in need. Now it’s called the Calgary Food Bank.” This food bank is not a government or United Way agency as they rely solely on the generous support of the community.
There are many programs at the Calgary Food Bank that meet the food needs of individuals and families. Ogston explains, “We are always evaluating and updating our programs to meet current needs. We pilot programs as we see a dramatic change.”
Current Programs at the Calgary Food Bank
Emergency Food Hampers
All of the food hampers meet Canada’s Food Guide requirements and contain one week of food for each person. If you’re a single person receiving a hamper, it’s a very generous offering. “Eligible Calgarians in crisis may receive up to seven emergency hampers in a 12-month period. The first three hampers may be received through self-referral while the last four require a referral from one of our agency partners. There must be a 30-day gap between requests. Most of our clients come less than three times in their lifetime,” clarifies Ogston.
There are various steps people requesting help must go through in order to get a food hamper that can be accessed here. Frequently Asked Questions are also answered in this link. The Calgary Food Bank determines need based on income and situation. Some questions might be difficult to answer but they ensure the utmost respect and confidentiality.
Specialty hampers are supplied to people with allergies, specific dietary restrictions or for expecting mothers. Celiac products are available for people with Celiac disease or other food sensitivities that include gluten-free specialty items like soup, cereal, pasta, and bread. Vegetarian products include high-protein foods for clients who cannot or do not eat meat. This ensures that they receive proper nutrition. Prenatal Nutrition is given to low-income expectant mothers. Baby food, formula, and diapers are distributed to mothers with new babies. For clients with chronic kidney disease (CKD), renal care products are supplied that include low sodium, low potassium, and minimally processed foods.
Credit: Calgary Food Bank
Weekends and More
The Weekends and More (WAM) program was a 2014-2015 pilot program between the Calgary Food Bank and the Calgary Board of Education (CBE). At that time, the purpose was to address the issue of food insecurity over the weekend for school aged children. As stated by the Calgary Food Bank, 41 percent of children experience food insecurity, 5 percent higher than the national average and 61% of their clients are families. (See more stats at the end of this article.) Though children are protected from hunger while at school through the in-school food programs, a lack of access to food on the weekends was a problem in the past and present.
In collaboration with the CBE, the Calgary Food Bank researched weekend food support programs in North America so this is how the WAM program began. Another key contributor to this program was the WAM Development Group and other private donors that guaranteed hungry children would have access to food over the weekends.
In the first year of the program, three schools participated where 240 students received 1,929 hampers. The program added three additional schools in the first year. The WAM program is now in six elementary and junior high schools. As of January 19th, 2016, James McAra, CEO of the Calgary Food Bank, stated that “this project is now an official hunger prevention program to ensure that children are supported in their health and learning and are not at risk of becoming nutritionally poor.” After this announcement, the Calgary Food Bank will add four more CBE schools to the list this year. The main purpose of the WAM program is to ensure that hunger is not a barrier to learning.
Chronically food-insecure students have little or nothing to eat outside of school. School personnel identify students as chronically food insecure and then step into action. Some kids have only eaten a few bites of food since Friday or perhaps nothing at all. The day before the weekend, children are given discreet hampers containing kid-friendly meals to take home with them. Hampers are packed in an unmarked bag that will fit into children’s school bags.
For convenience, the food given has minimal cooking or preparation. All food items come from an approved list created with the assistance of nutritionists from Alberta Health Services. A weekend hamper for one child would include: Fruit Sauce; Oatmeal packages; Cheerios (single serving); Annies Macaroni and Cheese; Tetra Pack Milk; Tuna snack packs; Low sodium soup (Healthy Harvest/Presidents Choice Blue Menu); Uncle Bens Bistro Express (brown or whole grain rice); and Nutri-Grain Granola Bars.
Ogston explains why the percentage of children needing food changes every year. “Every year fluctuates nationally because it’s about comparing the hunger count based on Food Banks Canada that comes out every spring. So nationally, they found that 36% are children. In Alberta, we do our stats at the end of our fiscal year in August. The fluctuations occur because people move here or move out of the province etc. and it’s based on other reasons as well.”
There are no restrictions for children who access the WAM program. “Food starts a conversation and when students are accessing the WAM program, they (the school) can then work with the student to determine what the root cause of the food insecurity is and hook the family up with the appropriate agencies. There are no restrictions whatsoever on the WAM programs. There are guidelines that we have but there is always food available,” explains Ogston.
Credit: Calgary Shaw TV
Homeless Hampers
As well, hampers are available for the homeless population where two to three days of food is provided for Calgarians with inadequate shelter. These hampers include nutritionally complete foods and ready-to-eat foods (pull-tab cans, heat and serve foods, or require only boiled water.) Clients access these hampers through agencies that offer other programs such as the Drop-In Centre, Mustard Seed, the Salvation Army and Feed the Hungry. In 2015, 16,510 Homeless Hampers were distributed through partner agencies.
“Welcome Home” Hampers
In early 2011, the Calgary Food Bank and Community Kitchens Calgary partnered to create the Welcome Home Hamper Program in support of newly housed Calgarians. Provided to these Calgarians transitioning from street living to their own homes, were specialized items like supplies that a household requires for the first month. It includes cleaning supplies, hygiene items like soaps and shampoo as well as miscellaneous baking ingredients. Welcome Home clients are referred by agencies working with homeless individuals and families.
Food Link
The generosity and contributions from the food industry have allowed the Calgary Food Bank to distribute bulk food to qualified organizations through the Food Link program. Food is distributed through agencies such as Woods Homes, Hull Family Services, Calgary Dream Centre, Drop-In Center and for the YMCA’s after school programs. However, to pick up food and snacks from Food Link, agencies need approval. The food bank also reaches out to agencies not yet using the Calgary Food Bank. Food Link was created due to requests from the food industry and their desire to help local communities. Read about it here.
Milk Program
There are two different types of Milk Programs the Calgary Food Bank offers Children’s Milk Program and Bulk Milk Program. The Children’s Milk Program is separate from the regular hamper program. In this case, children are referred to the program through public health nurses, social workers or health based agency partners associated with the Food Bank. Milk is given to each child under 18 and for pregnant and/or nursing mothers. Bulk Milk is accessible to qualified organizations such as the 15 agencies in the program: Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter, In From the Cold, Discover House, Louise Dean, Metis Calgary Parent Link, Salvation Army and YWCA Sheriff King Home.
For 2015 in total, 32,200 cartons of milk and 2,700 cans of formula were distributed. An estimated 6,300 mothers and children were supplied milk from this program.
Calgary Food Bank use is up by 23%
With the drastic drop in oil prices in Calgary, huge numbers of layoffs, the high cost of living, and larger population, the use of the Calgary Food Bank has increased dramatically. “We have seen more people since the population has grown and so have needs for the Calgary Food Bank. Alberta is known as a province where others from other provinces come here to work. The high cost of living also has an effect on who uses the food bank and when. Each month the number of clients fluctuates. On average we are up approximately 23% in numbers of people coming and the number of hampers given out since 2015,” explains Ogston.
The reason why Calgarians have had to give up meals are because of the high cost of rent, utilities, phone bills, transportation, childcare, medical needs, education and vehicle repairs. “You can trim a food budget, or say no to buying groceries, but you can’t avoid paying rent and so on,” adds Ogston.
With one in nine Calgarians using the Calgary Food Bank now, the situation may, in fact, get worse with increased unemployment, EI and severance packages running out. The compassionate workers and volunteers at the Calgary Food Bank are ready for whatever challenges Calgarians face when it comes to food insecurity. “We are always talking to our clients, the community, etc. so that we are prepared. Our roots are in this situation with boom or bust cycles,” says Ogston. Besides giving food to people, pet food is supplied to pet owners but the pet food has to be donated.
Right now, every $1 of food donated equals $5 worth of food but this may change with the rising cost of food. Ogston continues, “It is enough right now. Yes, we may have to revisit it but it hasn’t changed as of yet.”
Volunteers give their time to the Calgary Food Bank
The Calgary Food Bank has a good number of volunteers, 131+ Calgarians who give their time each day and without them, the operation would be slowed down. Volunteers are the “lifeblood” of the Calgary Food Bank as 90% of the critical tasks are done on a daily basis from unpacking, sorting, shelving, and distributing the food to Calgarians in need. There are certain times of the year when the volunteer numbers are low and that’s March-April and September-October.
Hundreds of fundraising events held each year
There are many events held for the Calgary Food Bank every year. How many? “Hundreds,” clarifies Ogston, “from 3rd party community events to big Christmas campaigns. There are events going on in the community all the time where people donate food. Each event is different in scope and size.”
The Calgary Food Bank is an organized huge operation and appreciated by everyone especially those who never thought they would need to use it in their lifetimes. Support and help from the Calgary Food Bank are available from kind, compassionate workers, and volunteers during difficult times. Whether it is a downturn in the economy, an unexpected turn of events, or sudden change, former donors have become recipients and some recipients will become donors when the good times return. The Calgary Food Bank played a big role in helping people obtain food after the 2013 Calgary flood when many Calgarians were suddenly left without food, homes, and material possessions.
There are many ways to give: online; in person; by phone; by cheque; by food drives and fundraisers. Donors can also designate funds through Donate a Car Canada; Agents of Change Partners; and Canada giving made simple.
Calgarians can find solace in using the Calgary Food Bank as a valuable resource, by becoming a volunteer or a donor for one of the most needed charities in Calgary, Alberta.
“Food is the stuff of life. It nourishes our bodies and connects us to others.
Good quality food should not be out of reach for anyone.”
James McAra, CEO of the Calgary Food Bank
Calgary Food Bank Stats
Calgary Food Bank Stats
Calgary Food Bank Hamper Request Line: 403.253.2055 (Best time to call is between 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.)
Donate: 403.253.2059
Volunteer: (403) 253-2059 Ext. 2.
Charitable number: 130 167 349 RR0001
Calgary Food Bank
Calgary Food Bank Blog
Become a Depot
Calgary Board of Education
Weekends and More (WAM) Food Support Program for Children
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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