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Canadian Red Cross helps food bank in Fort McMurray manage increase in customers

Guest post by Guy Lepage, Canadian Red Cross volunteer in Fort McMurray

“This food bank hasn’t had line-ups for more than a decade.” Arianna Johnson, executive director at the Wood Buffalo Food Bank in Fort McMurray, says the wildfires changed that.

Fort McMurray food bankSince it reopened in early June, staff members have prepared and handed out 150 hampers a day. To put that in context, last year, in June 2015, they handed out 270 hampers for the entire month. That fed 692 people. From June 11 to 30, 2016, the organization produced 2,169 weekly hampers which fed 5,649 people.

Johnson says the numbers are only part of the story: “Ninety per cent have never used a food bank before.”

This is where the Canadian Red Cross has been able to help, by providing $2.4 million to the Alberta Food Bank, a provincial association representing food banks in the province. In turn, it has given $1 million of that total to the food bank in Fort McMurray.

“It (Red Cross funding) has given us freedom”, says Johnson, adding it allowed her to make dreams a reality. “It gave us the ability to do some of those things that, you know, were always a dream but not a necessity, like a fork lift.”

Now that the food bank has a forklift, off-loading three tractor trailers which roll in every week is much easier. The funds also allowed Johnson to buy two large storage containers called sea cans to help keep more stock on hand. And she has also hired more staff to prepare the hampers.

“Having all these things has given us the freedom to actually do the real work which is feed people.”

And that was a growing challenge even before the wildfires. Demand between January and March this year increased by an average of 51 per cent. And in 2015, food bank usage increased by 72 per cent over 2014. Johnson says she was always leery of big national organizations when it came to fundraising.

“I am pleasantly surprised and so grateful that our message about the money raised for this community being for this community and to support the people of this community was heard and followed through with. It certainly made me grateful and I am much more of an advocate for the Red Cross than maybe I have been before.”

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