BARRHEAD-The Barrhead Food Bank will be getting a welcome boost to its stockpile later this month thanks to a food drive sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In the coming days, 30 volunteers from Barrhead's Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be going door-to-door in Barrhead leaving empty bags, which they encourage residents to fill with non-perishable foodstuffs and leave on their doorsteps on Sept. 25 by 10 a.m. The bags will then be collected and brought to the food bank.
The food drive, nicknamed the Alberta Food Drive, is part of a larger campaign that will be taking place in 15 Northern Alberta communities, including Fort McMurray, Slave Lake, Spruce Grove, Morinville, Stony Plain, Onoway and Sherwood Park.
Spokesperson Leasa Sulz said the food drive started in 2009 by one Edmonton-area Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints serving a small Edmonton neighbourhood.
"A clergy leader who was also a teacher saw too many students without enough food and decided to have his congregation do a door-to- door drive," she said. "The next year, a few more congregations decided to join in collecting food for their local food banks and by 2011 all our congregations came on board."
In the last full year of the Alberta Food Drive, 2019, they collected more than 380,000 pounds of food items for local food banks.
"We did hold the food drive last year, but because of COVID, not all the communities could participate," she said.
For instance, for more than a year the Barrhead Food Bank did not accept physical food donations due to the pandemic.
"In those instances, we encouraged people to make a financial donation to their food bank," Sulz said.
Barrhead Food Bank coordinator Cheri Jantz said she is excited about the drive noting that they started accepting physical food donations on Sept. 1.
The food bank is operated by the Barrhead and District Family Community Support Services (FCSS) as part of its community-funded programming.
"Now that we will be relying more on actual food donations, food drives like this are so important," she said.
Jantz added they were not sure what to expect once they resumed taking physical food, but donations have been coming in steadily.
"We have especially been getting a lot of donations of fresh vegetables. That has been a great blessing to our clients," she said.
The fact that donations have been coming in at a fairly reliable pace is a good thing because she said the need for the food bank's services is increasing.
Jantz said in an interview in early July that typically the food bank helps between 115 to 175 clients on any given month. And although the number of clients the food bank serves can fluctuate up or down, overall food bank use is on the rise. June saw 15 new clients and in August, they had another 20 new clients.
"These are people who never used food bank services before," Jantz said, noting the numbers are significant because many of them come from multiple people households. "Usage is the highest it's been since the start of the COVID in 2020."
She said that the Barrhead area is not alone, noting other food banks across the province are also experiencing increases.
Jantz said the statistics comes from a national data information collection system, that collects the demographics of the food bank and other agencies that support people with food security issues.
"Having the information helps, these organizations advocate for funding or resources to meet the needs in their communities or regions," she said, noting the information submitted is generic and never includes clients' identities.
The troubling thing about the data from the recent spike in food bank usage numbers, is that most of the increase does not come from job loss, but inflation Jantz said.
"The biggest issue around food insecurity is the increase in the cost of living. People who were on the borderline, but were still able to make things work have pushed over that line and now they are struggling," Jantz said. "And that frightens me because as we go into the fall and winter, housing, heating and electricity costs will increase and has the potential of pushing more people over that line where they will need to use our services."
The food bank is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2 to 4 p.m. To arrange for a pickup time or an intake interview call 780-284-7390.
Barry Kerton, TownandCountryToday.com