Holidays may be over, but demand at food bank still strong

After a busy holiday season, the Calgary Food Bank is still experiencing a strong demand for its services going into 2020.

The organization raised $7.6 million in food and funds over the 2019 holiday season.

A total of 1.2 million pounds of food donations were received, and volunteers logged 11,873 hours in December.

In addition to distributing emergency hampers, the food bank supplies food to other local initiatives like the Drop-In Centre and the Safeworks Harm Reduction Program.

More than 163,000 pounds of food was distributed by the food bank to these partners in December to help feed their clients.

Making hampers: Volunteers prepare food hampers for clients at the Calgary Food Bank on Jan. 15. Volunteers work at a variety of stations in the warehouse to check and sort food donations. Once the food has been checked and sorted, volunteers at this station work together to fill the hampers. (Photo by Oliva McFarlane/The Press)

The food bank also helps clients find other resources to provide long-term solutions.

“Food insecurity is barely ever the issue, it’s potentially a symptom of a different issue,” said Calgary Food Bank representative Rachel Nadler.

“In addition to the food we distribute, when people call in, we try to connect them with other community resources that might help them get to the root cause of their food insecurity.”

While community support is strong during the holidays, so is the need for assistance.

The holidays can put extra strain on people in need, explained Nadler.

“People have their families come over for Christmas, for example, and now they’re out of food earlier than expected,” said Nadler.

The volunteer-staffed call centre answered a total of 7,793 calls for assistance in December, an average of 433 per day.

Calls are continuing to flood in, said Nadler.

“We’re still seeing a high volume of calls, especially relative to other years,” she said.

“The need does continue to increase, year over year.”

Warehouse tour: Calgary Food Bank representative Rachel Nadley gives a tour of the Food Bank warehouse in Calgary on Jan. 15. Once food donations have been sorted, volunteers work together to assemble hampers for clients. Each hamper contains a variety of items for individuals or families. (Photo by Oliva McFarlane/The Press)

Volunteers are essential in the everyday operation of the food bank, which receives no government or United Way funding.

“Volunteers are our lifeblood. We could not do what we do without them,” said Nadler.

Volunteer positions are separated into two categories: administration and warehouse.

Administration duties can include answering phones in the call centre, supporting clients though the intake process, and volunteer management.

Warehouse volunteers carry out tasks like receiving donations, sorting food, and building hampers.

Shifts can be as short as three hours, and no ongoing commitment is required.

There is currently an extra demand for warehouse volunteers to assist with heavy lifting and physical tasks.

In addition to volunteering, the community can continue to support the food bank in 2020 by donating food.

The “wish list” items are Kraft Dinner, canned pasta sauce, dried pasta, canned fruit and soup.

Anything helps, be it time, funds, or food, said Nadler.

“We don’t prioritize one need over the other. You can volunteer if you have some time, donate some food if you can, donate some funds if you can,” said Nadler.

“We’re grateful for it all, and it’s all needed.”

Source: Calgary Food Bank (By Oliva McFarlane/The Press)