Print Edition: November 16, 2011
Year round, the Abbotsford Food Bank (AFB) helps families and individuals in the community who don’t have enough to make ends meet ensure that they get the necessities for life. During the Christmas season especially, the AFB and the Christmas Bureau are hard at work to assist Abbotsford citizens in need.
This is the busiest time of the year for the AFB. As Cliff Prang, an employee and community development worker at the AFB, explained: “September through December is when people are feeling the most generous, because we are looking towards the holidays: Thanksgiving and Christmas. At Thanksgiving, I am thankful, therefore I share the abundance that I have with other people, and [at] Christmas too. The foundation of the holiday is giving, so we give.” Once January hits, the amount of donations made diminishes, but what the AFB takes in between September through December fills their needs for the entire following year.
The food bank is for those whose living expenses exceed their income. This is a phenomenon not uncommon to university students, whose expenses (for example, tuition, books, etc.) can be financially crippling. When an individual must add dependants into that list of expenses, balancing the chequebook can become even more difficult. AFB helps over 3000 people a month, and of those over 40 per cent are children.
Because children are such a large percentage of those helped by AFB throughout the year, the Christmas Bureau ensures that those children have Christmas presents. “We sponsor about 700 families every Christmas. We sponsor the families out to business, classrooms, church groups,” Prang explained. Last year, 323 families were sponsored by the community directly, and 404 families were sponsored through the AFB. The Christmas Bureau supports families that cannot be sponsored at Christmas by providing food and by allowing them to come and choose gifts for their children in the Christmas Bureau toy room. The Fraser Valley Toy Run put on by the Fraser Valley Toy Run Society is one of the major initiatives to stock up the Christmas Bureau toy room – the event brings together motorcycle enthusiasts from all over the Fraser Valley to raise toys, cash and gift certificates for children. This year, over 900 bikers participated in the toy run, and over 1000 toys were collected on October 16 to support the Christmas Bureau.
Since the economic downturn of 2008 there has been a shift in the demographic of families assisted by AFB. In 2008, the average yearly income of a food bank user was $12,183.00. From that figure, it was calculated that after rent was paid the average food bank user had $4.53 a day to live on. By 2010, the average yearly income of a food bank user was $15,792.00, leaving individuals with $16.40 per day to live on after rent was paid.
Prang stated, “The amount of people using the food bank has gone down a little bit over the years [since 2008], but only a little… in BC the cost of living is high. There are still a lot of single-parent families out there. Divorce rates continue to increase. There are a lot of families trying to do it on their own.”
“What continues to increase is community involvement,” Prang added. “Knowing that financial pressures are high, we continue to see an increase in generosity in our city. That gives us great courage.”