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Food insecurity faced head on in Cochrane, Morley

Inflation, COVID-19 recovery and high rates of unemployment are leaving some looking to community supports
20211217 Elizabeth Barrett HH Free Food Shed Drive 3 JL
Elizabeth Barrett kindergarten teacher Jeanne Duvette stocks up a shelf in the Helping Hands free food shed. (Jessica Lee/The Cochrane Eagle file)

Albertans are feeling the pinch at the pumps, in the grocery aisle and in their utility bills. 

On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, those increased prices may be extra painful. But for some, the added costs are making it difficult to make ends meet. 

In Cochrane, more are turning to the Free Food Shed, said Helping Hands Society food security manager April Baird. But some of that usage, she said, could be linked to gained awareness of the program which opened in May last year. 

"People are still just learning that the shed even exists," she said. "However, since Christmas, we have noticed that donation turnover has increased substantially. 

"A completely full fridge and pantry can turn over to almost empty in a matter of just a couple of hours." 

Baird said the shed typically gets between six and eight visits per hour during the day. About 61 per cent of visitors donate or drop off food while 19.4 per cent pick food up on a weekly or monthly basis. Around 11 per cent of respondents say they use it to exchange food items. 

"Some hoarding is to be expected," Baird said. "But the need is apparent." 

"We've become a popular addition to the community during a time when people were not working, kids were bounced in and out of school and the cost of living and groceries are continually on the rise and, of course, because there are zero barriers or qualifications to using it," Baird said.

"As such, it's hard for us to judge the shed's worth pre-pandemic." 

A second Free Food Shed is set to open Tuesday, March 22, at the Bow Valley Baptist Church at 54 W Aarsby Rd. 

The Iyahrhe Nakoda Food Bank Society that serves Stoney Nakoda communities has also recorded a "a pretty significant uptick since December and January," said co-president Garry Tether.

"We've been speculating on why this may be and we're thinking some of it may be people who were on CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit)," he said. "That's dropping off and the government is clawing back some of it." 

Tether said the food bank provides for those who are unemployed or low income. 

"There is a very high proportion of people that live on the reserve that live on government assistance," he said, also noting a high unemployment rate. "We have a lot of clients on a regular basis." 

The food bank, he said, is feeling strapped as food donations dry up from the holiday bounty. Finances too, he said, are also running low. 

"The important thing we need right now is access to finances to operate," Tether said. "We can't give out food if we can't keep our doors open." 

He said the food bank's funding was steady throughout the COVID-19 pandemic due to grants. 

"Most of those have dried up," he said. "We’re scrambling now to raise money to keep paying our staff as we go into our new fiscal year. We don’t have enough money to fulfill our entire budget."

Tether said significant financial contributions come from Cochrane, Canmore and Banff around the holidays which supplies about 25 per cent of the budget. Grants typically round out the rest. 

Monetary donations are always accepted. Cheques can be mailed (to PO Box 1048, Morley, Ab., T0L 1N0) or online contributions can be made through Canada Helps or ATBCares. Tethers said ATBCares waives fees associated with donations. 

As for food needs, the food bank is looking to increase its sources for fresh food and frozen proteins. This will help the move away from high-processed foods. Tether said the society will be speaking with local businesses to see if they can garner more support. 

"That's an area we've been trying to move up in the last couple years," Tether said, noting new freezers and fridges have been purchased.

Iyahrhe Nakoda Food Bank is also seeking more volunteers to help out. 

"I always see it as a good way to be a good neighbour and build a relationship between our two communities," Tether said.

Volunteers can contact [email protected].

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