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Barrhead Food Bank usage remains high

In 2023, the food bank served 270 households and 634 individuals
Barrhead Food Bank co-ordinator Rae Whiting told County of Barrhead councillors during the April 2 council meeting that demand for their services remains high.

BARRHEAD - The timing of a town-wide food drive could not have been better.

Two weeks ago, on April 5, volunteers canvassed the town collecting non-perishable food items for the community's annual food drive. The drive collected over 3,500 pounds of food, helping replenish Barrhead and District's food bank shelves. 

In addition, the County of Barrhead and the Neerlandia Public Christian School (headed by the Grade 1 class) held food drives, collecting close to 600 pounds of food.

Food bank coordinator Rae Whiting told County of Barrhead councillors at their April 2 meeting that food drives such as these and the 3,214 pounds of fresh produce from the Community Garden go a long way. If the not-for-profit organization had to purchase a similar amount itself, each pound of food would be equal to $3.52. She noted that the donation from the Community Garden equals a financial donation of $11,313.

Whiting and FCSS executive director Karen Gariepy attended the meeting to present the organization's quarterly report, focusing mainly on the food bank's activities.

Whiting said the food bank is fortunate to have generous local business benefactors, noting that it receives thousands of pounds of food donations from Pembina West Co-op, Freson Bros., and Neerlandia Co-op.

She added that the local agricultural community is also very generous, saying that in the last year, farmers donated five sides of beef, two of which included processing.

And even with such generous community support and donations from the Parkland Food Bank, the Leduc Warehouse Allotment, Whiting said meeting people's needs is still challenging.

She said in 2023, the food bank served 270 households and 634 individuals, with 184 new clients.

"Many of those are repeat customers, so the need is much bigger than that," Whiting said.

Nor is the demand for the food bank's services diminishing. On March 21, the food bank had one of its busiest days in recent memory, serving 69 individuals and handing out 31 food hampers.

"Which is the most [food hampers] we've sent out in a single day since I've been there," she said.

As for why people are turning to the food bank in growing numbers, Whiting said the reasons vary.

"They've recently moved, are a single parent, are on a fixed income, job loss, substance abuse, their adult children moved back home, or they just can't make ends meet," she said. "We hear that a lot, especially with the rising cost of living."

Whiting added they are seeing more seniors access the food bank.

"They say they've worked hard their entire lives and managed, and can't believe they are now in a situation where they need the help of the food bank," she said.

Walter Preugschas asked if the food bank tracks what municipality a food bank client is from and what the breakdown is from each community it serves.

The Barrhead food bank serves the Barrhead communities and a portion of Woodlands County, specifically the Fort Assiniboine-Goose Lake region.

Whiting said yes, adding that the food bank takes basic client information, including addresses, as part of the intake process.

However, Whiting said she did not have the information handy and was reluctant to make a guess.

Gariepy interjected that the food bank was also getting its official accreditation from Food Banks Canada.

Food Banks Canada is a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping Canadians facing food insecurity by supporting a network of Provincial Associations, affiliate food banks, and food agencies that work at the community level to relieve hunger. 

"We have until next spring to become accredited," she said, adding to get their accreditation, food banks must adhere to Food Banks Canada's Operational Excellence guidelines.

In a previous interview with the Barrhead Leader, Gariepy stated that in most cases, the food bank follows the guidelines but does not have the accompanying policy and procedure documents.

"The accreditation gives us access to future funding and resources from Food Banks Canada and Food Banks Alberta," Gariepy said. "It is an important step."

Barry Kerton,

Barry Kerton

About the Author: Barry Kerton

Barry Kerton is the managing editor of the Barrhead Leader, joining the paper in 2014. He covers news, municipal politics and sports.
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