FoodConnexx – Food Security Hub in the Foothills is a rural response to reducing vulnerabilities and increasing safety, well-being, food security and connections. Every week, volunteers and staff rescue food from local grocery stores and businesses that would otherwise be thrown out due to damage, excess or imminent best before dates. Food is then distributed in packages based on the number of people in the household and any dietary restrictions/preferences. If transportation or leaving their home is an issue, delivery can be arranged. Once registered, participants will receive a call the day before and given a specific pick-up time.
The need for food brings us into the lives of our most vulnerable families, individuals and seniors. This leads us to becoming a part of their lives and develop meaningful relationships. There’s always more to the story and we’re here to hear it and offer support. You can be a part of making a difference in fighting hunger and ways to create sustainable changes in the lives of people who are experiencing disparities.
Food Banks Canada reported in 2022 that 63% of food bankers saw increasing mental health support as one of the top policy priorities to reduce hunger in their communities — compared to 50% in 2019.
This has certainly been our experience. Our staff and volunteers are finding they are spending more and more time engaged in caring conversations when individuals are called to schedule food package pick-ups or when registering people for the first time. Food is only part of the equation of the need. Social-emotional well-being has a major impact on overall health.
Trudy’s story – Trudy is a good example of the struggles that seniors with mobility barriers and isolation experience on a daily basis. Trudy lives in a modest home in a small rural town southeast of High River. Her home is where she finds solace and comfort. However, living on her own with a minimal support network leaves Trudy at risk of hunger, loneliness and depression. She is plagued by monthly decisions on whether or not to pay her rent and utilities or finding a way to eat nutritiously. Her fixed income was already barely making ends meet, and now with the economic crisis we are in, she is highly anxious. Part of her anxiety is the possibility of losing her home and not having any other alternative. Facing homelessness as a senior in a rural community is a scary reality.
Trudy began receiving Food Packages from FoodConnexx last year when WRCC piloted a Seniors program designed to support seniors who had been experiencing more than the usual isolation due to COVID. This pilot led us to meet many older adults (and other individuals with mobility issues) living in remote rural areas with no means to access some of the supports offered in their nearby towns. The level of food insecurity was alarming as was the sense of feeling isolated and disconnected which significantly impacted mental health.
Trudy has said on many occasions how truly grateful she is to be able to count on our FoodConnexx program to not only bring nutritious food to her home to supplement her groceries, but the caring conversations and the kind gestures (such as shoveling her ramp and walkway) that make her feel important and cared about. Her connection to the WRCC Team offers her the opportunity to have her basic food needs met along with connecting to our CaringConnexx program. This program offers Trudy the listening ear she needs to elevate her sense of belonging and importance as well as have the support of getting connected with other community resources she was not accessing. Trudy is feeling more confident knowing she’s not alone to face these very challenging times.
John’s situation -he is a recent amputee living alone and has a history of mental health concerns. He has the support of an Alberta Health Services Home Care provider, but one of his primary sources of anxiety is food insecurity. Lack of food and not knowing how or when he will be able to get his basic food needs met causes him to fall into episodes of high anxiety and depression. Just knowing that FoodConnexx will deliver his food packages out to him every 2-3 weeks allows him to function better and focus on his other needs and daily life.
Our programs rely on the support of donors and funders to be impactful in the lives of those like Trudy and John. In September WRCC had to lay of 2.5 staff that worked in the FoodConnexx and CaringConnexx programs. Since we only had 3.5 staff, that is a 70% reduction in staffing. Lack of staff also impacts the ability to engage our volunteers.
Impact – reduced capacity to receive and sort food donations; package, distribute and deliver food packages; suspending our more remote rural delivery of food packages due to lack of staff and the cost of fuel.
– reduction in our volunteer program to recruit, train, match and supervise volunteers so that our participants, like Trudy, can have someone to have regular food deliveries and a caring person checking in and helping to connect to other community or government assistance programs.
A lack funding opportunities and competition for grants has led WRCC to need to consider suspending our programs. This interruption in service will have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of our participants. Living in a rural a community has inherent barriers for people to be able to address their food insecurities.
· In Alberta, Food Bank use went up by 73% in 2022 compared to 2019 levels. More than double the national average. 1 in 5 Albertans are experiencing food insecurity
· 156,690 Albertans accessed food banks in March 2022 – a 34% increase from 2021
· Over 57,750 children access food banks in Alberta. 29% increase from 2021
· 45% food bank users are families
· 59.7% of rural food bank users receive Government assistance like AISH or CPP/Pension
· 30% of rural food bank users are seniors or persons with disabilities
Quotes from isolated individuals “Sometimes I just need someone to talk to who will listen, I always feel more hopeful after your visit.”
“I have nothing but tremendous praise and respect for the lifeline you and your agency have provided me-it has given me the help I presently require and the hope and drive to “never give up on my journey to recovery.”
Quote from a senior “You were there to offer support when no one else was, being an adult/senior there are not many resources available to me.”