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County of Barrhead residents make up close to 70 per cent of food bank clients

Food bank coordinator Cheri Jantz says the majority of new food bank clients is due to the rising cost of housing and groceries
Cheri Jantz Oct. 5,2021 copy
Barrhead Food Bank coordinator Cheri Jantz said many people who have accessed the food bank over the last two years are doing so because of the increasing cost of food and housing.

BARRHEAD-More than half of Barrhead Food Bank clients are county residents.

Food Bank coordinator Cheri Jantz recently told the County of Barrhead councillors that close to 70 per cent of food bank users are county residents.

Jantz visited council as part of an Oct. 5 delegation from Barrhead and District Family Support Services (FCSS)

The not-for-profit society operates the food bank as part of its community programming.

Using August as an example, Jantz said the food bank served a record 231 clients, 157 (or 68 per cent) of which were county residents.

"Sixty-eight of those clients are families," Jantz said, adding they served 95 families in total. 

She added that the families they serve in the county tend to be larger, having more than the typical 2.1 children.

Jantz said the Food Banks demographics also tend to differ from the provincial norms as the typical Alberta person relying of Food Banks tend to be women, single mothers.

She noted the Barrhead Food Bank tends to see more single men.

"Which is a little unusual," Jantz said, adding many of those who are single are homeless.

"We do have homeless in Barrhead. It just looks different than it does in the city ... people just couch surf going to friend from friend a day or a week at a time," Jantz said.

She added that most of the new clients who have accessed the food bank's services are doing so because of the escalation in the cost of housing and groceries.

"Only one person has said it was because they lost their job because of COVID," Jantz said.

She also noted the situation seems to be improving. In September, the food bank served 185 clients, with 65 being children accounting for 85 households. However, she said it is too soon to tell if it is going to be a trend.

Although they provide help to families, Jantz said that if it is at all possible, parents are discouraged from bringing their children.

"Just because it is a difficult scenario for children going to school knowing they are accessing the food bank," she said.

However, Jantz said it happens on occasion.

She related a story of a man who visited the food bank this summer, bringing his young three or four-year-old daughter.

Because of the pandemic, the food bank arranges the pick-up of hampers via telephone.

This has helped not only allowed them to limit people in the building, Jantz said, but it also streamlines the process, allowing volunteers to prepare a specialized hamper to clients needs.

The little girl asked the volunteer if they would be receiving any hamburger as it was her favourite.

Of course, Jantz said the volunteers knew this from the intake interview, adding that hamburger is often a staple of hampers.

"She was so excited that she was going to get some hamburger, she picked a dandelion and gave it to our volunteer as a gift," she said with her voice wavering.

Unfortunately, Jantz noted some requests are not as easy to accommodate, telling the story of a young man who asked for steak.

"He received hamburger, but we gave him some recipes and meal ideas," she said. "I also made him take a spaghetti squash and told him how to bake it."

The squash was just one of the countless produce items people have been donating over the summer.

For the majority of the pandemic, produce was about the only physical food items people could donate as the food bank switched to financial donations.

But since the start of September, the food bank has resumed taking physical food donations. Donations have been steady and they were recently augmented by a food drive organized by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which netted the food bank over 4,000 pounds of food.

The food bank is also a member of Alberta Food Banks, and as such, has access to their Leduc warehouse.

"We can get food sent to us. All we have to do is pay for the freight, " Jantz said, adding she was able to find a grant to help with shipping costs.

The food bank also have access to fresh eggs via "the egg hub" in Spruce Grove. 

"(The egg hub) is connected to several grocery stores and we can get a lot of food stuffs that the stores discard, such as bread, pastries, produce, dairy, et cetera, and that is all free. All we have to do is pay for is transportation," she said.

Jantz added because the food bank is affiliated with the FCSS, it makes it easier to connect their clients with other services or organizations they may need.

"I love my job," she said. "It is so rewarding to be able to help people with a problem, that I can help, at least in the short term, can solve."

Barry Kerton, TownandCountryToday.com

 



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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