The Red Deer Food Bank experienced a surge of food hamper distributions in 2023.
Last year, the food bank provided on average 941 food hampers each month, a nearly 85 per cent increase since 2021.
Executive Director, Mitch Thompson explained the growth in demand is the result of inflation and the rising cost of living.
“Greater utilities and fuel costs, but also the cost of food has risen so much that we struggle with those expenses just like the individual homeowner that is feeling the inflation, when they buy groceries as well,” Thompson said. “There's a fair number of factors that are all playing into the economic situation, which is making it incredibly difficult for a lot of people to get by at this time.”
In the 2023 fiscal year, the food bank saw more than 70,219 individuals access services, 27,700 people receive emergency food hampers stocked with staple household items, and about 45,000 people access the food bank pantry.
“Each and every year, that number increases,” Thompson said.
Due to the growing demand, the food bank has had to reduce some levels of service and limit the amount of food offered.
“We just haven't had an abundance to be able to share as widely or with as much quantity,” Thompson said.
However, Thompson explained, the food bank is being more innovative by using a greenhouse, increasing donation efforts, and raising awareness.
“Even with the tremendous, heartwarming swell of activity of donations that came from the community, we're still in a place where we're healthy today, but looking two or three months out, I know it's going to get tighter and we're going to have to continue to look for new opportunities to raise awareness,” he said.
Between 80 and 85 per cent of food bank donations come in during the holiday season and decrease later in the year.
“That's a big factor for us and with the higher living cost and inflation food cost people are experiencing, we're just not seeing as much come in, both in food and funds, as we have in previous years,” Thompson said.
The food bank has also become more stringent on reviewing financials and scenarios causing people to turn to the food bank.
“We're not as lenient, and we're having to put in more restrictions to ensure that we're feeding those who need the help most,” Thompson said. “That's really hard when you know people are struggling.”
The food bank can provide circumstantial approval but usually can’t stretch beyond the income threshold.
“We're doing our best to help, but we're not able to help everybody in every circumstance. When somebody is in a place where they need assistance, that's what we're there for, and we provide it,” Thompson said. “It's just unfortunate that we're having to increase our scrutiny to ensure that we're providing food for those who need it most.”