“We’re probably looking at over 5,000 people this year,” says Barb Courtorielle, of the Slave Lake Food Bank.
Courtorielle is the executive director of the Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre, which runs the food bank. She wasn’t sure of the exact number for the year to date as of July 26, 2023, but she did know it had been busier than previous years.
The week of July 17 to 21, 15 new households signed up. Households can be an individual, couples, parents (or grandparents) with children, multiple families, single people renting rooms in the same house, multi-generational families, etc.
“Whoever is living there,” says Courtorielle.
Food bank use has increase over the years. From 2020 to 2022, the number of people more than doubled. In 2020, the food bank helped 2,176 people: 1,077 children and 1,099 adults. In 2021, it helped 3,313 people: 1,731 kids and 1,582 adults. In 2022, it helped 4,585 people: 2,652 children and 1,933 adults.
Courtorielle figures that as of July 26, the food bank has already helped more people than in 2022, with five months left to go.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government sent food banks extra money, but this is starting to dry up.
Courtorielle just received some funding.
“I didn’t get much for food security,” she says.
Until March 2024, the Friendship Centre has a paid volunteer coordinator and food bank supervisor.
However, at the moment, the food bank is too busy to be run by just one person. Therefore, the Friendship Centre is looking for volunteers.
The food bank is open on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
It can help up to 15 households a day, says Courtorielle.
“I’m looking for somebody that I can train,” says Courtorielle. “We need somebody that’s consistent.”
Often the food bank gets $18,000-worth of groceries at a time which must be sorted, stored behind the older items, and organized into packages for clients. If no volunteers are available, other Friendship Centre staff have to step away from their work to help.
Another volunteer opportunity would be the person who talks to the clients. They help them do the application form and put it in the computer. This doesn’t require any heavy lifting; other parts of the work do.
People could also volunteer to pick up food bank donations.
Sobeys and No Frills have food bank bins. Walmart and Shoppers Drug Mart have them from time to time. People can also donate using cash or cheque at the Friendship Centre.
The food bank relies heavily on donations.
The Friendship Centre recently received a donation of $500 from a motorcycle event organized by the Thunder Crew. The Mormon church usually organizes a food drive in September. The Mosque often organizes one during Ramadan.
Courtorielle is also planning on doing a pancake breakfast fundraiser soon.
The Slave Lake Food Bank helps people living in Slave Lake and the M.D. of Lesser Slave River from west of the Athabasca River to Assineau and Marten Beach. Smith-Hondo, Chisholm and Flatbush likely fall into either the Westlock or Athabasca food bank areas.
People needing help must bring proof of residence in this area and their Alberta Health number.
People can use the food bank once a month, to supplement their food.
“It’s not food for the month,” says Courtorielle.
The Friendship Centre also helps the homeless. They can get a bag lunches, shower, and get clean clothes from the second hand store.
“We know them,” says Courtorielle. “We know they have no address.”
Looking back further, the increase is even larger. A September 22, 1993 Lakeside Leader article says that the first year that records were kept was 1991. In 1991, there were eight requests for assistance. In 1992, there were 36 requests. By September 1993, it had already received 46 requests. People could only request help once. This appears to be households.
In August 1999, 110 clients/families used the Slave Lake Food Bank, says a September 22, 1999 Leader article. This was 25 per cent more (up from 79) than a year earlier and much more than the previous month: July 1999 (53).
by Pearl Lorentzen