Food bank volunteers in Turner Valley are bracing themselves for an influx in demand as the unemployment rate soars in light of COVID-19.
Requests for food hampers more than tripled in March and Karen Milne, who is on the Oilfields Food Bank’s board of directors, expects the demand to continue climbing in the coming weeks.
“We noticed an increased demand the week after it was named a pandemic,” Milne said of COVID-19. “In a period of time we might normally do five hampers, we did almost 20. Most of them were families.”
Just as important as meeting the demand is reducing the risk of volunteers contracting COVID-19, Milne said.
The way hampers are now collected follow social distancing regulations.
Rather than clients picking up hampers in the Lewis Memorial United Church basement on a drop-in basis, Milne said those in need must complete an intake process over the phone. They are then given a time to pick up their hampers.
“We’re limiting access to the building so clients get their food hampers delivered outside and only our intake workers and volunteers are inside the building, especially during the next two to three weeks when it’s going to be so critical,” she said. “I don’t expect to see this end until the fall, honestly. We all need to be keenly aware of taking care of each other.”
Milne said first time clients are required to show photo identification with proof of residence to ensure they live in the service area. The Oilfields Food Bank assists families in Turner Valley, Black Diamond, Longview, Millarville, Priddis and the surrounding Foothills County.
Clients can request a food hamper once a month during the COVID-19 pandemic and will be given enough food to last them two to three weeks, Milne said.
“Since we don’t always receive everything on our weekly food order, if we are out of an item we will put in extras from our existing inventory,” she said. “Clients may not get what they might normally expect to see because of possible shortages, but it will be fulsome.”
Community generosity is not in short supply.
Milne said the firefighters’ food drive last fall brought in more monetary donations and food items than the previous food drive, setting the Oilfields Food Bank up to assist people in this time of need.
“I think we’re feeling like we’re in a really good position because we have the most supportive community ever,” she said. “They’re always there for us wondering if we need more cash to buy food. We are very, very blessed with the way that this community takes care of their people.”
With the demand on the rise, a call was put out for more volunteers with a great response, Milne said.
To reduce the spread of COVID-19, Milne said monetary donations are encouraged.
“Our volunteers are pretty precious to us and we really do not want them to handle a whole bunch of random items that are being donated,” she said. “We’re encouraging people if they would normally go to the grocery store and pick up five dollars-worth of stuff for the food bank to put five dollars in the mail instead.”
Donations of food will still be accepted at the church between 11 a.m. and noon on Tuesdays, but they will be quarantined for a week, said Milne.
“We don’t want our volunteers having to handle more product than they need to,” she said.
To further reduce the risk, Milne said the congregation has given food bank volunteers the entire church basement to store and sort food.
“We have been able to set up tables in different aisles like in a grocery store so our volunteers can go down the aisle, fill up the cart and put the hamper together to set aside for our client to pick up,” she said. “If the church didn’t do that it would have been very difficult for us to serve our clients.”
Anyone needing food hampers can call 403-612-1291 on Monday between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. or Tuesday between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Pick up takes place Tuesday between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Those wishing to donate money can mail a cheque to the Oilfields Food Bank at Box 1318 in Turner Valley, Alberta T0L 2A0.
Anyone wishing to assist with volunteering can email [email protected]
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