For the tenth consecutive year, Interfaith Food Bank, Lethbridge Food Bank and Salvation Army joined forces to ensure that the less-fortunate members of our community were provided with supplies for a Merry Christmas.
To make the most of our resources and eliminate the duplication of services, our trio of agencies planned and prepared to serve 2200 households for the 2016 Holiday Season, a 30% increase in comparison to Christmas 2015, as had been reflected in requests for assistance since the economic downturn earlier in the year.
This past Christmas, a total of 1634 households were provided with food hampers complete with Christmas fixings, and 2030 children ages 17 and under received toy bundles so they might have something special under the tree on Christmas morning. Thanks to the support received through community donations, 4242 individuals were assisted this holiday season (2212 Adults and 2030 Children). These numbers reflect only a 6% increase in the number of individuals served this year, but a 15% jump in the number of children who received assistance compared to 2015 statistics. Agencies served 50 fewer adults this year, but 265 more children.
Organizers are unsure of the exact reasons behind the lower than expected numbers, yet grateful that the community was able to meet the demand for those who did request help this year. It is unclear why over 150 local households registered for Christmas Hampers but did not pick them up, though higher than normal toy distribution figures suggest that families may have opted only to ensure there were gifts under the tree for the little ones, as opposed to securing additional food resources. Food budgets are often pushed to the wayside in lieu of other priorities.
Agency representatives suggest that there may be a few reasons why numbers in Lethbridge did not reach the projected increases this year. While it is concerning that some families may not have requested assistance they were in need of, lower numbers could be the result of positive efforts elsewhere:
• 2016 was a tight year for almost all Albertans, and many were expecting a very tight Christmas this year. With more families requesting help, and fewer resources to go around, perhaps families just expected that help may not be available.
• 158 households registered for Christmas but did not pick up their hampers – perhaps news of shortages in other cities discouraged families from accessing resources locally, or help was found through other sources.
• Largest increase in 2016 had been among single, working individuals. Many may have joined their extended families over the holidays, and may not have required the December hamper.
• Other agencies, churches, and even families and neighbors could have stepped up to meet the increased need this year. Facebook groups and local networks have been trending lately, and informal avenues of acquiring support may be more preferable for those who do not normally access food bank services at other times of the year.
• New programs in rural areas could have also picked up the slack that we have been providing for in past years. Food bank programs have begun to take root in communities such as Pincher Creek and Milk River, for example, helping to meet local needs as opposed to rural community members having to access services in Lethbridge.
Our agencies are committed to moving families past food bank line-ups. Connecting families in need with other local resources allows food bank access to be a temporary solution to food insecurity while families and individuals can address underlying issues such as under-, or unemployment, marriage failure, addictions, illness or injury. On-going demands placed on food banks and social service agencies have continued, however partnerships and cooperation between these agencies is proving to be a successful measure in providing necessary services.
Normally, Lethbridge Food Bank, Salvation Army and Interfaith Food Bank receive the bulk of their support during the Christmas season, and a surplus in food and funds is required to meet the demands of the New Year. While food stocks have returned to a more manageable state after the holiday rush, they are expected to deplete quickly. Financial donations were down slightly in 2016 as well, with many charitable organizations reporting shortages and/or expectations of a struggle in 2017 while the economy continues to rebound from the recent slump. To ensure we are able to meet ongoing demands, the community can expect to see each agency continuing to actively recruit donations of food and funds well into the New Year.
We would like to express our gratitude to the community for assisting us in ensuring that everyone had a chance to have a Merry Christmas. On behalf of our staff, volunteers and the families we serve, we hope you had the happiest of holidays, and we look forward to your on-going support in 2017.