Mission grappling with unprecedented growth in demand

By Geoff Smith (@GeoffSmithLNN on Twitter)
October 15, 2018 - 10:37am

LETHBRIDGE – The Streets Alive Mission is planning a new approach to deal with an unprecedented need, as it appeals in the short term for donations to its food pantry.

Associate director of philanthropy Marie McLennan told LethbridgeNewsNOW the amount of food being given out by the pantry has tripled in the last year, and the shelves are starting to become bare. She explained the pantry is for clients of the city’s other food banks who find themselves running short.

“Sometimes it’s because they don’t know how to prepare the food they’re given, and that kind of thing,” McLennan said, “and so we rely heavily on very simple – canned pastas, beans, canned meats, those kinds of things that are basically open and heat kinds of foods versus something that they actually have to cook.”

She added wholesale-sized products are welcomed because unlike with a regular food bank, their staff will break them down into individual servings in food-safe containers. She said they’re looking for peanut butter, canned pasta, canned fruits and vegetables, ready-to-eat soups, canned meat and fish, and pre-cooked canned beans.

But the demand for the emergency pantry is just part of a steady growth that McLennan said is keeping Streets Alive’s staff on their toes. She explained their regular clientele has been joined by a lot of newcomers.

“Part of that is that Lethbridge now has facilities that enable a lifestyle that is attracting a lot of people,” she said. “We are seeing a lot of new faces, new people to town, they don’t know how to access services, so they hear about us, they come to us for help.”

But that’s not the whole story either. She said poverty is “alive and in charge” in Lethbridge.

“We’re starting to see way more families than we used to coming into our feeding programs, accessing our services, whether it be the clothing exchange, or whether it be the food pantry or anything like that. And that’s got us very concerned.”

That has the mission working on new programming, to be announced later in the fall, to help people get back on their feet through abstinence and recovery. McLennan said a big component will be literacy.

“A lot of the street-level literacy is about a grade four comprehension level and about a grade seven literacy level. So, it’s fairly low,” she said. “And that really inhibits them from being able to fill out forms and access services and government agencies that are there to help them but they can’t access them because they can’t wade through the red tape.”

In the meantime, McLennan said cash donations are a huge help because they allow mission staff to buy what’s needed the most at any particular time. Money would also be welcomed from people who may have already purchased and donated food to the other food banks.

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