Bells rang as the Salvation Army kicked off its kettle campaign for 2023 as the organization looks to raise $650,000, a $50,000 increase from last year.
Captain Peter Kim, Grande Prairie Salvation Army executive director, says this year about 9,200 individuals are accessing the food bank. He expects the number to grow to more than 12,000 by the end of the year.
“The need has grown exponentially,” said Kim.
He said about one in five community members struggle with food security.
“We have about a three-week waiting period for people to just receive their food because there’s just a huge volume of new households, new individuals, coming to access the food bank.”
Pre-pandemic, the Salvation Army made about 3,000 hampers a year; this year, it is projected to make over 8,000 hampers.
Kim says inflation, cost of living increases and utility costs are factors for the higher demands in people accessing the food bank.
“We are in a sense preventing families from losing their homes if they have to determine whether they have to pay for rent or whether they have to eat; this actually is a prevention from homelessness,” said Kim.
Locally, the food bank has served 5,331 children under the age of 17 this year.
He said in the past three years, an increase of about 3,000 new households per year access the food bank; some of the new faces are people who have jobs and own houses.
“Our concern is that they will eventually become our base if things don’t change.”
Kim says donations have also declined.
“If we’re not able to meet the needs this year, we’re worried that it’s going to be worse next year because those same people are going to come back for more hampers on a regular basis,” said Kim.
The Salvation Army is looking for volunteers to ring bells and stand next to kettle this Christmas season.
“If you spend a two-hour shift, you could be helping a household or two,” said Kim.
He said they are currently short on volunteers, and all 11 kettle stations have not yet been opened because of it.
Jane Reif will be volunteering this year, just as her parents had taught her from a young age.
“I was a six-month-old baby the very first time and I’ve done them every year since,” she said, noting her children now also volunteer to do the kettles.
Reif understands the need for the hampers.
“I was a single mom for many years, so sometimes the hamper was all we got for Christmas,” she said.
“I vowed when I was able to give back financially I would, but even when we couldn’t give financially, we donated our time.”
She said receiving a hamper in those times of need meant everything.
“There were times when there wouldn’t have been any presents under the tree for my kids, and we were able to have food.”
She said that many people may not realize who is hurting financially.
“I’m sure a lot of my friends didn’t realize how bad things were for us.
“It’s not something that you go out there and advertise by any means; you don’t want to tell people there’s no food in the house.”
Jerry Napier, president of the Swan City Rotary Club, said his Rotarians see the need in the community and will be helping this year at the kettles, something he has done for over 20 years.
“We’re starting to get into the Christmas mood, and nothing says it more than seeing the kettles and the bells ringing and the generosity of the community,” he said.
To volunteer, call 780-296-3946 or email firstname.lastname@example.org; shifts are two hours and run between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Donations can be made at the kettles with cash or tap and online at salvationarmygp.ca.
By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Nov 23, 2023 at 10:00