An economic downturn due to continued low oil prices has affected many working in the province – according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, approximately 35,000 jobs in the oil industry have been lost since the start of the decline.
According to a press release issued by Alberta Food Banks, 67,443 people accessed a food bank during March 2015, an increase of more than 23 per cent over the same period in 2014. The national increase in the same period was 1.3 per cent.
The numbers were released as part of the national HungerCount program, which tracks data from 3,000 “food-related organizations” across Canada.
“We were (expecting the numbers) with so many changes in the economic landscape across Alberta, with the adjustments in the oil and gas sector,” said Stephanie Rigby, executive director with Alberta Food Banks. “As early as June, some of our members were saying, ‘Wow, we seem to be busier.’
“My fear is March numbers are just the tip of the iceberg.”
Airdrie Food Bank Executive Director Lori McRitchie said she “couldn’t believe how busy” the organization has been. The Airdrie Food Bank has seen its overall year-to-date hamper usage jump 21 per cent and its bread and extras program increase by 24 per cent over the same period as last year.
“We’re seeing the numbers steadily increase. Our hamper days are full now. We’re going to have to have another hamper day,” she said. “There’s a bit of a trickle-down effect. Oil companies have laid off people, who aren’t able to shop – so local businesses and restaurants are affected.
“Our community is still supportive, but we are going through food very quickly.”
Though the HungerCount program is just a “national snapshot” of food bank usage – it only tracks numbers for the month of March – McRitchie said things started to increase after that.
“August, September, October we saw things go crazy. It started to rapidly increase,” she said. “We’ve seen record hamper days. It’s getting bigger and bigger.
“It maxes out our capacity.”
The Airdrie Food Bank will see its usage increase during the Christmas season, but McRitchie said the “majority” of donations are typically made during the holidays.
“We rely on Christmas to restock us,” she said. “We’re hoping the community will continue that support through this Christmas season.”
McRitchie said donations of funds are essential for the food bank to continue to purchase perishable items like milk and meat for hampers. For more information on the Airdrie Food Bank, visit airdriefoodbank.com