An annual count of Salvation Army Food Bank users has revealed that local user numbers have doubled over the last year.
“We do a count every March and when we compare the number of individuals that we had using the food bank last year to this year, we had a large increase,” said Major James Hägglund.
In cases of children under the age of 18, women, and adults the numbers doubled across the board of users taking advantage of the Food Bank’s hamper services.
Hägglund attributes the increase to a number of factors.
“I think we have become more accessible and more people are aware that we are here and willing to help. But I think it also reflects the populations of people in our area who have been laid off,” he said.
Hägglund said that a common misconception with the food bank is that its main users are either transients or those on social assistance, when the truth is that the majority of its users are not just Fernie residents but also part of the working poor population.
“Most users either own their own home or are in a private rental. As far as transients coming through who are on the street, the increase this year is entirely attributed to people within the Fernie area. They’re citizens.”
Hägglund added, “I think that’s a misconception that people may have about people who are coming through, taking our resources and leaving. It’s our own people who are using these services. A lot of people also think we’re helping people on social assistance to be lazy, and we’re not. If anything, we’re seeing people on social assistance who need a hand to get off social assistance and move on with their life. It’s the working poor who are doing their best to make ends meet.”
Only 12 of the 66 people the food bank helped in the last month were on social assistance and there were no transients who used the food bank this March and only one who did last March according to Hägglund.
In order to address the increase in food bank users Hägglund noted several improvements that need to be made, such as additional training availability for skilled positions and a minimum wage that can sustain the current cost of living.
“It’s not a simple situation … but we want to be able to help people out and give them a hand during these difficult times,” said Hägglund.
The current monthly hamper service the food bank provides includes meat and vegetables for a few days and a gift card to local grocery stores to buy other essentials.
Those who believe they can make use of the food bank can apply for the hamper service at the Salvation Army in Fernie on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30-11:30 a.m.
A freebie bin is also kept stocked on Tuesdays and Thursdays for those who may need something to get them through the day.
“An appointment isn’t necessary but we want people to know they can come by, say hello and that we’re here for them if they need us,” said Hägglund.