For 40 years, it has been helping families and individuals facing food emergencies, and demand for its services is on the rise.
In November, 9,000 hampers were distributed, affecting the lives of 38,000 Calgarians.
Shawna Ogston with the Calgary Food Bank says most users turn to the food bank one to three times a year just to bridge a financial gap.
“A lot of people will say to me, ‘Who is using the Calgary Food Bank?’ And I’ll say, ‘Take a look in the mirror, it could be you, it could be a neighbour, it could be a family member.’ Everyone is experiencing crisis at a different level, and when the stress of food is happening in their lives, it doesn’t matter what quadrant of the city you are coming from, or what your circumstances are, the Calgary Food Bank is here for you.”
The Calgary Food Bank knows the mental toll food insecurity can have on people. That’s why it teams up with agencies like the Calgary Counselling Centre and Distress Centre Calgary, so when they spot signs of anxiety or depression, the food bank refers them to the proper services.
On the flip side, the Calgary Counselling Centre will refer its clients to the food bank if they identify food insecurity issues.
“Ever since the pandemic, we have seen an increase in people seeking counselling,” says Marcus Cheung with the Calgary Counselling Centre.
“Imagine if you are somebody who constantly has to worry about whether you have food to bring to the table for yourself and your loved ones. It can be a very highly stressful experience,” Cheung says.
“When we are working with people who struggle with feeling chronically hungry, people often identify as feeling very anxious, nervous, they are constantly on edge, feel a high sense of frustration.”
Cheung says those feelings are not surprising to see in those facing food emergencies, because they are constantly in a fight-or-flight mode, trying to survive.
Alberta food banks see 30% jump in demand since 2019
The Calgary Food Bank relies solely on the support from the community. Dedicated volunteers work on assembly lines to sort food and pack and distribute hampers. In December, Christmas content is added to the hampers so clients can enjoy a holiday meal.
A one dollar cash donation can be leveraged into five dollars worth of food.
“Money donations also mean we can buy specific items needed to fill the hampers, including proteins, fresh fruit and vegetables, milk, eggs and cheese,” Ogston says.
Food and goods donations are also welcome, especially diapers.
“If you are having a hard time putting food on the table, imagine the cost of diapers? So that’s something we can use in any size; and if your child had transitioned sizes, we will gladly take those open packages,” Ogston notes, adding they are also looking for more volunteers in the new year.
“It takes an entire village and community to help anybody around you,” Cheung says, adding the importance of good food to not only our physical health, but mental health as well.
“The metaphor that I use is that you can’t run a car without fuel. Nutritious food is something that is going to help us sustain a healthy lifestyle and without that we are just not going to be well.”
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