Alberta's oil patch woes hit home at Central Okanagan food banks
By John McDonald
Volunteers from Crowe MacKay help to kick off the Central Okanagan Community Food Bank's Christmas hamper build on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2015.
Image Credit: Contributed
December 10, 2015 - 1:00 PM
KELOWNA - Plunging oil prices and substantial layoffs in Alberta’s oil patch are making their mark here in the Central Okanagan through a surge in food bank use.
Public relations director Ami Catriona says the Central Okanagan Community Food Bank, which has branches in Kelowna and West Kelowna, noticed an unusual uptick in requests around Thanksgiving in October, when demand for food hampers began to jump way beyond the 80 or so they would normally give out in a day.
“One day we gave out two hundred hampers. There’s always a seasonal increase around this time of year, there’s Christmas and things get more expensive in winter, but this was on top of what we would normally see,” Catriona says.
Information provided upon registration to the foodbank’s clients services manager points to one main reason; oil patch workers who live with their families in the Okanagan and who would normally fly in and out for work.
“We have at least 100 new clients where that’s their story, either they were laid off outright or who don’t have a job to go back to,” Catriona says.
She figures the October spike followed all the bad news and layoffs in the Alberta oilpatch this summer by a couple of months, about long enough for workers and their families to eat through their savings.
“You figure you will find something else and then it doesn’t happen so it’s time to apply for EI and that takes another four to six weeks and now Christmas is right around the corner and you’re broke.” Catriona says. “Then you start thinking about Christmas dinner and gifts for the kids.”
Catriona says the food bank has been able to handle the increased demand so far, as they are in the final weeks of their holiday donation and food drive anyway, but will likely pay the price in the spring.
“Normally this would stock us through to March. With more demand, we will probably have to start another food-raising drive earlier than normal,” she says.
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