Alberta pledges $2.99 per meal for food banks

Last week, Alberta announced $5 million to “support food banks and community organizations in their food supply efforts”. This sounds like a lot, but we must keep it in context.

Last week, the Government of Alberta announced $5 million in funding to “support food banks and community organizations in their food supply efforts”.

This sounds like a lot of money—and I do think that $5 million is better than $0—but it’s important to keep it in context.

For example, according to Food Bank Canada’s HungerCount 2019 Report, food banks distributed 1,092,416 meals and snacks in Alberta during March 2019.

Assuming that the $5 million announced last week went to only food banks, that would mean it would work out to about $4.58 per meal/snack.

There’s a second assumption: that the $5 million was a recurring monthly funding amount. If, however, it’s one-time funding that food banks will be forced t0 spread out over several months—given that COVID-19 is going to span several months—the per-meal amount drops significantly: $2.29 per meal for 2 months, $1.53 per meal for 3 months, $1.14 per meal for 4 months, $0.92 per meal for 5 months, and so on.

What if we look at per-person funding instead? Well, food banks in Alberta saw 89,821 visits in March 2019. This works out to about $55.67 per visit in funding. Again, if that money is spread out over several months, the per-visit amount drops: $27.83 per visit for 2 months, $18.56 per visit for 3 months, $13.92 per visit for 4 months, $11.13 per visit for 5 months, and so on.

In Lethbridge, for example, a monthly food hamper at the Interfaith Food Bank costs about $100. So this funding would cover a little over half of the cost of a hamper in Lethbridge.

Calgary, on the other hand is more expensive, with their emergency food hamper for 4 people having a market value of $316. That means that the provincial funding would cost about 17.6% of the market value of a hamper in Calgary.

Again, assuming this was a recurring funding source, not just a one-time amount. Otherwise, the next month, the food banks will be back to trying to cover 100% of the cost of the hampers on their own again.

A third assumption is that the number of people using the food banks in March 2020 is the same as the number of people using them in March 2019.

In Calgary, for example, the Calgary Food Bank distributed nearly 70,000 hampers in 2018. This month, they’re reporting an increase of 100 clients a day. At 36,500 a year, if that increase continues, that’s nearly a 50% increase in clients over 2018 levels.

If we can extrapolate the same increase onto the total visits seen in Alberta in 2019, it’s possible that March 2020 saw 170,411 visits to food banks throughout Alberta. That would bring the per-visit funding amount to actually $29.34.

The number of meals and snacks, if increased by the same amount, may have risen to 1,668,210, bringing the per-meal funding amount to actually $2.99. That’s less than a Happy Meal.

Again, all that assumes that the total funding is for just one month and goes to only food banks.

In contrast, the federal government has pledged $100 million to “improve access to food for Canadians facing social, economic, and health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Alberta’s pledge amounts to a little more than $1 per person in Alberta. Canada’s pledge, in comparison, comes to about $3 per person. Canada has pledged 3 times as much per capita than Alberta has. Despite having about 7 times more people, Canada promised 20 times more food bank funding than Alberta has.

Had Alberta pledged a similar per capita amount as Canada, food banks in the province could be receiving $15 million instead.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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