Shelves stocked at Calgary Food Bank but increased demand anticipated when government programs end
CALGARY -- The Calgary Food Bank has seen a change since the pandemic began —not so much in the number of people seeking help but who is in need of assistance.
"There are so many Calgarians that have lost their jobs and didn't expect that they would be coming to a food bank," said Shawna Ogston, a spokesperson for the Calgary Food Bank. "We're seeing about one-quarter of the clients that are coming here on a daily basis are those who have lost their jobs and they just didn't have any cushion."
Ogston says the Calgary Food Bank initially saw an uptick in demand before government financial support programs kicked in, but the increase has since levelled off. Right now it is providing about 1,500 families every week with a seven day supply of food. The non-profit organization expects demand to increase again once those programs end.
"Even before the pandemic we knew that the economy was suffering, " explained Ogston. "We were doing forecast models that were looking at 'How are Calgarians getting through their precarious employment, or unemployment?' and we were building models knowing that there was a constant increase in demand.
"There's never been a decrease in demand at the food bank. Now, with this crisis and just crippling unemployment, we know that we're here for the long haul."
Outside the build, cars line up as Calgarians in need of help through the crisis, including Fidel DeJesus, wait for hampers to be loaded into their cars by volunteers.
"Right now I'm out of work," explained the father of two. " My wife is only working casual. I can't find a job. I got laid off. It's very important service to provide food for my kids and my family."
The COVID-19 Pandemic has forced the food bank to change the way it does business. Where once there could be as many as 1,000 people a day passing through the building — including volunteers, staff, and clients — there are now only dozens.
"We really had to look at our logistics, not only how the food is coming in, but how are we creating those hampers," said Ogston. "We used to have volunteers side-by-side-by-side. So now we've got to make sure there's social distancing, we have to make sure that the environment is clean and healthy and safe for everyone."
The way food is handled and delivered has also changed.
Any non-perishable food received a the food bank must sit 24 hours before being handled by the staff members or volunteers who place it into hampers.
The hampers then sit for an additional 24 hours before bending loaded into clients' cars by volunteers wearing masks gloves and face shields.
Ogston praises Calgarians, saying the food bank is able to continue providing its hampers because both donations of food and offers to volunteer have remained strong throughout the pandemic.
"We're all gobsmacked by just how amazing Calgary is. They're (Calgarians) on the phone, they're on the computer saying how can I help?"
She says the items that are in short supply for the food bank are the same ones Calgarians have seen disappearing from store shelves.
"We can't guarantee cleaning supplies and toilet paper and paper towel. So we're still trying to get those items when they're donated and put them in the hampers," said Ogston. "So if you've got lots of toilet paper, and you know you're not going to use it all in 2020, please don't hesitate to donate it to us. We'd love to be able to get that to clients."