Nourishing hope in tough economic times

Volunteers help to pack eggs at Edmonton's Food Bank.

Community food banks providing more food hampers ahead of Christmas

Kerri Daniels has poured her heart and soul into this storefront enterprise for two decades.

And yet, it’s the last growth industry she wanted to see in her community.

Daniels is the president of the Athabasca Good Samaritan Ministries Association in northern Alberta—which, alongside victim services outreach, a children’s charity, counselling services and kids’ summer camps, operates the largest food bank in the region.

The Athabasca food bank serves more than 2,000 registered families from eight counties and three municipal districts. Volunteers constantly assemble and distribute hampers, filled with food, hygiene products, baby products and more—nourishing the food bank’s clients with gallons of homemade soup, hot food and coffee on site as they arrive to pick up much-needed hampers, and operating a delivery service for clients who can’t get around.

And with the downturn in Alberta’s economy this year, Daniels says the Athabasca Good Samaritan food bank has seen well over 100 new families begin using its services since September.

“Right now, we have an overabundance of new families coming in because of the layoffs. The need has been growing very quickly,” she says. “We’ve had grown men with families calling us and breaking into tears. They had stable jobs for years, with mortgages and truck loans—they never thought they would be in the state they are.”

Well-documented trouble in the oilpatch, as well as low commodity pricing in the mining industry, cost Alberta an estimated 63,500 jobs through the first eight months of 2015 alone, according to Statistics Canada. Meanwhile, Food Banks Canada, in its 2015 HungerCount, says food bank use is 26 percent higher than it was in 2008; Alberta is hardest hit, with three-quarters of food banks in the province reporting an increase in use.

In Elk Point, AB, the Elk Point Lions Club operates a Santas Anonymous program, assembling Christmas hampers that include ingredients for a turkey dinner, kids’ toys, woolen hats and mittens.

Susan Frisby, who’s coordinated the Santas Anonymous program for a quarter-century, says the program is supporting 49 families this Christmas season. “This is the most families we’ve seen in the history of the program,” says Frisby. “There have been quite a few layoffs. Smaller businesses in the community are hurting, especially those in the oilfield service industry.”

Enbridge is committed to supporting and strengthening the communities near our pipelines and facilities, in both good times and bad. Heading into the Christmas season, we’ve made donations to food banks in communities like Elk Point and Athabasca in Alberta, Montreal-Est and Vaudreuil-Dorion in Quebec, Cornwall and Strathroy in Ontario, and Montmartre and Estevan in Saskatchewan.

Including a $40,000 donation to Edmonton’s Food Bank, which itself provides food to more than 210 agencies, churches and food depots, Enbridge has donated about $148,000 to 28 food banks and outreach organizations across Canada to make the holiday season a little brighter.

Because, as Daniels notes, lives do change for the better, too.

“A lot of families we’ve helped before come back out and volunteer for the food bank, and financially support us, too,” she says. “It’s a full circle—the evidence of change in people’s lives. Twenty years down the line, I see the little kids we fed come back as adults to help out.”