Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
November 30, 2009
Hunger grows; churches reach out
Alta. Food bank use increases by more than 60% in one year
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
With the ongoing economic downturn, finding enough food to satisfy their hunger has become a difficult task for many Albertans.
Food bank usage has skyrocketed to an all-time high, leading agencies and Catholic parishes throughout Edmonton to contribute more food than ever.
St. Theresa's Parish had its own food bank until September. However, the organization of volunteers and preparing food hampers became an unbearable workload for Maria Lupul, who was overseeing the service. Half of her workday was spent on coordinating food bank tasks.
"Recently we have become a depot of the Edmonton Food Bank because we found that there was a lot of doubling up of services and it was a lot of work," explained Lupul.
"We still collect the food here, and the parishioners still contribute, but now we send the food downtown and they make the food hampers, and once a week people come and pick up their hampers."
The Edmonton Food Bank needs to collect about 240,000 kg of food before Christmas to keep up with the demand. Lupul said food bank usage in Alberta has increased by 61 per cent in the past year.
"Actually they said at one time 70 per cent. It's gone up greatly," she said. "We always have in our church bulletin what we're short of, what the needs are. We have a running list from the Edmonton Food Bank.
"Our parishioners are excellent, and all you have to do is say what the poor need, and they respond."
Schools have been particularly generous as well. There have been instances of a single school bringing in 15 or 20 boxes full of food items, which are then forwarded to the food bank.
"We send down a lot more food than we get back," said Lupul.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SSVP) has also noticed a greater demand for food.
"We bought food in the summer. We generally don't do that, but the demand had increased, and we had to go out and buy some. The cupboards were bare," said Darryl Dittrich, from Edmonton's central distribution centre.
The SSVP does not have an in-house food bank, but will provide emergency food hampers when volunteers visit their clients' homes. As well, they provide referrals to appropriate agencies. When other agencies have failed or do not have any food to provide, many times the SSVP steps in to assist.
Through parish-based conferences in Edmonton, items and food are raised for the poor and then distributed by the SSVP.
HELP FROM STUDENTS
Dittrich credited Grade 3 students from St. Albert for their food drive just after Thanksgiving that helped stock the shelves at the downtown distribution centre.
"The Grade 3 students learned about St. Vincent de Paul, and then did a food drive," said Dittrich. "The schools are great for that. Even if everybody brings in a can of beans, it helps."
Although the SSVP has no storage for fresh meat, it gladly accepts non-perishable items such as canned meat and peanut butter.
Margaret Gregson, president of the SSVP's St. Albert conference, said she expected more food requests but so far has not seen a marked increase. Her conference receives about 10 to 12 calls per week, and most of those requests are for furniture and only about two per cent for food.
Most food banks have restrictions on the number of times an individual or family can access their services, with some only giving food hampers every month at the most.
"People will run out of food and they can't go back to the food bank, so they will come to us. Some people can't get to the food bank because either they are disabled or don't have transportation," said Gregson.
Patrick Stewart, director at the Marian Centre, said the inner city soup kitchen has not experienced an increase.
"You do see new people, but the overall numbers of people coming are not higher than they have been. I've been here 12 years and I've seen at different times the demand was much greater," said Stewart.
While the need for food in the inner city is greater than ever, Stewart said there is also more food availability than in the past and more agencies are helping than ever before.
"The food banks are more for people who own homes and have their own apartments or residences, whereas most of the people who come here are living in shelters and don't have their own places. They don't have the facilities where they can get food and go cook it," he said.
Closer to Christmas, he sees a greater generosity of schools and families donating food and wanting to volunteer at the soup kitchen. On Nov. 24, schoolteacher Carla Cuglietta and three students from Austin O'Brien High School volunteered their time at the Marian Centre.
"Christmas is supposed to be a joyous season but there's no joy if you don't have family and good things in your life," Stewart said. "It just makes the darkness and the difficulties of your situation even more difficult to deal with.
"All the advertising says happy, happy, happy. But I'm sad, sad, sad. So it's even worse at Christmas."
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