Edmonton's Food Bank and Salvation Army saw increased demand in 2023

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Edmonton’s Food Bank and the Salvation Army saw increased demand in 2023, including many first-time clients forced to make tough choices.

Albertans faced many economic challenges in 2023, including increases in both food prices and rental rates. The cost of food in Canada climbed nearly six per cent from the previous year, according to the 2024 Canada’s Food Price Report. However, food prices are not the only place where Albertans were hit in their wallets — rental prices increased by 16 per cent in 2023, according to data released by Rentals.ca and Urbanation.

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It’s under these dire circumstances that food banks are seeing a marked increase in demand, especially from first-time clients, said Marjorie Bencz, executive director of Edmonton’s Food Bank. In 2023 the food bank served a record-setting 34,000 people monthly, as well as serving 400,000 snacks and meals through partner programs, she said.

Bencz said a food bank survey conducted during summer 2023 showed that 75 per cent of their clients pay full market rent, which can force some families to make difficult choices.

“When you’re low income, it means that you pay your rent and other fixed costs, and then you try to get through the rest of the month on whatever you have left,” Bencz said. “Then what happens is that people are scrambling for food support before the end of the month. Their income isn’t enough for them to be able to subsist.” 

Alberta’s food and rental prices on the rise

According to the Food Price Report, the cost of food in Alberta is forecasted to increase by another 4.9 per cent in 2024. The report also found that families have spent significantly less on food in 2023. Some people have turned to their local food banks for the first time as a low-expense alternative.

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Along with food cost inflation, Albertans are dealing with an increased cost of rent and utilities than other provinces. In 2023, “Alberta remained the provincial leader for annual growth in apartment rents,” according to the Rentals.ca report. The average rental cost in the province has risen to $1,695 per month.

These numbers coincide with data found in the 2023 Poverty and Socioeconomic Analyses report released last Monday by the Salvation Army. The organization surveyed 1,500 Canadians and found that one-in-five Canadians, including nearly half of all single parents, are struggling to cover their basic needs.

It’s a scenario that more and more Canadian families are faced with, said Fred Waters, public relations officer with the Salvation Army.

“When the cost of food goes up, but you can afford that, it gets to the point where you realize that you have to make some choices,” Waters said. “We’ve heard from parents who are now starting to have to choose to go without a meal so that they can provide for the children.”

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Charities being helped by the public

Despite these economic realities, both Bencz and Waters say that Albertans have been incredibly generous in 2023, with Waters expressing gratitude for the public and government funding the Salvation Army received this year. They want to remind Albertans that donating to a food bank isn’t about how many dollars you can give, but how many meals you can provide.

“We do our work can by can, dollar by dollar,” Bencz said. “So, sometimes people think, oh, I don’t have a lot of money, but even if you gave a can of soup, that means that somebody had a meal. 

To find out how you can donate or attend a food bank event, visit edmontonsfoodbank.com or call 780 425 2133.

To donate to the Salvation Army, visit salvationarmyedmonton.org or call 780 244 2962.

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