Most people tend to think about making a donation to the food bank around Christmas, with the spirit of giving at the centre of the season. As the cost of food, fuel and utilities continue to soar, the Oilfields Food Bank wants the Foothills to know that hunger doesn't take a vacation.
"Food banks need help now, not at Christmas," said vice president Karen Milne. "Hunger doesn't take a holiday — people, when they're hungry, it doesn't matter if it's Christmas, it doesn't matter if it's Easter, if your tummy is empty, it's empty."
The food bank, which serves Turner Valley, Black Diamond, Longview, Priddis and Millarville, saw a substantial increase in the number of users when the pandemic began. At the time, Oilfields saw a 34 per cent jump in requests for food hampers and a 64 per cent rise in usage by families with children.
Those high levels have continued and as the cost of virtually everything continues to rise, it puts people — and food banks — in a tough spot.
"People are worn out," said Milne. "They do everything they can — they're clipping coupons, they're shopping sales, they're trying to make smart choices.
"But I think everybody, not just people who go paycheque to paycheque, are feeling the pinch. It doesn't matter whether you're a senior or you're solo on your own or you've got a family, times are tough."
Monetary and food donations are down, which make it difficult to fill the need.
The local firefighters typically do a food drive every November, but that was halted when the pandemic began and has yet to be revived. Milne said the food bank really relies on the donations from that event.
But she said it's lucky to have an Alberta Food Banks hub — Okotoks — so close to be able to get donations.
It's also lucky to have a team of dedicated, compassionate volunteers that keep the program running.
"If someone has never used a food bank before and they show up at our door, they're only going to feel welcome and like there are people who care what's happening to them," said Milne.
"We couldn't do it without [the volunteers]."
These days, visitors to Oilfields are stressed and worried about paying their bills, putting food on the table and feeding their pets.
Pet food is something the food bank doesn't purchase, so it relies on donations to keep the shelves stocked for clients' furry friends.
Animals are instrumental in a person's mental health and often are not recognized as beneficiaries of the food bank.
With this pinch, the organization is making a call for help.
"I think at this stage, every single donation, no matter how small, no matter if it's money or it's food, would give us help," said Milne.
People are often okay with the idea that a trip or two to the food bank is alright to get them through a tough spot, she explained, but there are concerns from clients that it might have to be a long-term solution for them.
"This has gone on for so long that people are worried this is going to be a prolonged situation," said Milne. "It's not going to be 'I hit a bit of a rough patch and I need help.' They're wondering, 'Is this the way it's going to be for me? How am I going to find my way through it?'"
Oilfields Food Bank has been able to get this far, in part, through the aid of government COVID-19 grants. Now that those grants have dissipated, it's time for the community to come together as it would during a holiday to aid neighbours in filling their bellies and hearts.
"I think all food banks can remember that when people come through those doors and they leave with food, that's not all they're leaving with," said Milne. "They're leaving with a sense of community and caring and they have then a belief in the kindness of strangers.
"And if you're ever feeling alone, that's a nice thought to cling on to."
For more information about the food bank and for a list of items currently in need, visit oilfieldsfoodbank.com.