Nobody has to tell anyone living in Alberta that it's been a long, harsh winter, but for the Airdrie Food Bank and the people who make use of their services, it's been especially hard.
Executive Director Lori McRitchie says this winter has brought record numbers of people to the food bank. "January was a little bit lower than last January but February and March have been record numbers for us. They're talking recovery from the recession and things like that. That's not what we're seeing at this time."
McRitchie believes that there is a specific demographic in the city that's continuing to struggle. "That's people who haven't been able to replace the jobs they lost. They may have had limited hours at work or bills outside of their usual bills, things like added utility bills or higher utility bills. For people who are living close to the edge, makes it very difficult. We're still seeing many families in particular struggling, and we know that because of the number of children who are included in our hamper numbers."
McRitchie says that 47 out of every 100 people who come in for hampers are children, which is very different from when McRitchie started with the food bank a few years ago when the majority of clients were couples of single people.
McRitchie can't predict if the increase in food bank users is a long-term trend or simply an anomaly because of the hard winter.
"It's anybody's guess. What happened last year was January, February and March stayed parallel to the incredibly busy year that was 2016 when we saw the big hit of the recession and all of the oil company jobs being lost. Then in the second quarter, we started to see a decrease, I think the maximum month was about eight percent which was significant and we said, 'oh good, things are recovering.' In the third quarter of last year, we saw our numbers rise up again to meet the numbers from the year previous. In the fourth quarter we saw an increase and now in the first quarter of 2018 we're seeing a significant increase."
McRitchie believes, despite the increased numbers, the food bank will continue to be able to meet the need in the community. However, to that belief, she adds a "but." "But, we take in the majority of our donations at Christmastime and we stock them until we use them all up. So what typically happens is we start to run out of items in March, April, and May and then we start to purchase. Our donations are much lower in the first and second quarters than they are at Christmastime. We are seeing that now and we are starting to run out of items."
Food banks don't just assist people at Christmas, says McRitchie, but throughout the year, "People struggle every month for lots of different reasons. We continue to look to our community to help meet those needs."
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