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Okotoks, Oilfields food banks receive needed provincial grants

Food banks in Okotoks and Diamond Valley have received vital funding from the Province as food insecurity continues to persist.

Food banks in Okotoks and Diamond Valley have received vital funding from the Province as food insecurity continues. 

Highwood MLA RJ Sigurdson paid a visit to the Okotoks Food Bank and the Oilfields Food Bank Tuesday to present cheques on behalf of the Ministry for Community and Social Services. The funds are a result of successful applications for two provincial grant programs first announced in December. 

The Okotoks branch was awarded $90,000, which director Pamela McLean said is much needed. Usage of the food bank in town is up 250 per cent over this time last year. 

"As you can imagine, I've crunched that number many times, because that's just insane," she said. "If you talk to any of our staff here, it's just been non-stop." 

McLean said there are more than 100 people paying a visit to the facility every day. 

Alongside regular clients have been many new faces – people accessing the food bank for the first time – as well as Ukrainian refugees. McLean said that around 40 Ukrainian families are receiving food hampers, which the organization offers alongside its "help yourself shelves." 

The Oilfields Food Bank in Diamond Valley was granted $49,000. 

Vice president Karen Milne said the donation is good news. 

"It's going to be very welcome, we're projecting that we're going to be spending even more on food in 2023," she said. "We're looking at it being between $116,000 to $120,000 for food in 2023." 

In 2022, Milne said the organization spent $94,000 to fill the shelves alongside food received from the hub in Okotoks. Nearly three-quarters of all donations made to the charity last year went toward food costs.

The food bank in Diamond Valley is kept afloat by volunteers, meaning the money will go directly to helping the community, she added. 

Grants have been essential to Oilfields, Milne said. Federal and provincial money has allowed for the purchase of additional shelving and a stand-up freezer to adequately store the food – a challenge raised by the fact the building is only open to the public one day a week. 

The return of the much-needed firefighter community food drive after three years of pandemic cancellations has also made a big difference. 

Like the Okotoks Food Bank, Oilfields is continuing to support users who are accessing the service for the first time. Individuals are finding themselves using the food bank for extended periods of time, rather than as a result of a crisis-driven event. 

"It can be very disheartening for clients because they begin to wonder if that's going to be the direction of their life for the foreseeable future and it's not a direction they thought they'd find themselves in," said Milne. 

"Families will always pay their rent, their utilities, pay all those basics because they in no way want to lose the roof over their head," she added. "So where they will try and squeeze out what they can squeeze out is in their food budget. Once they've squeezed all they can then it's the time to take a look around and say 'You know, maybe we need to go to the food bank.'" 

Both food banks are grateful for the support from the government and members of the public as the need for the service continues to rise. 

"The community continues to support the food bank in a huge way and we couldn't be more grateful." said Milne. 

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