Brittany Gervais – Calgary Herald – Dec 17, 2021

Charitable organizations in Calgary need help bolstering food and clothing donations for people in need, especially as bitter cold temperatures grip the city.

Drew Gusztak, street-level and volunteer manager with the Calgary Mustard Seed, said food and clothing donations for the holiday season are at the lowest level he’s seen in 10 years.

“People showing up and giving is lower this year than last year. This is probably our lowest Christmas actually, in my time in the industry, for gifting,” Gusztak said.

The organization measures food, clothing, and hygiene donations by the boxes it receives. This year, Gusztak said there were 2,000 fewer boxes donated in November compared to last year.

“It seems like we’re hitting donor fatigue this year, or people are just tired and they want to stay in.”

Temperatures in Calgary hovered around -25C overnight for the last two days, or around -30C with the wind chill.

With these extreme temperatures, the Mustard Seed is in urgent need of blankets, winter coats, gloves and hats, underwear, backpacks, deodorant for men, travel-size shampoo, and disposable razors.

“What we’re seeing there with the street-level team specifically is a lot of guests that would otherwise be on the streets coming in throughout the day,” he said.

“Some of the guests can be prone to losing their tuques and gloves, or they get wet or cold, so they’re always requesting more. We’re just loading them up with lots of tuques and gloves — that’s our primary demand right now.”

Given the size of the Mustard Seed’s operations, Gusztak said the organization will be OK dealing with the drop in donations this winter. However, the Mustard Seed’s ability to share with other organizations will be impacted, he explained.

“It was pretty common for us to export anywhere from seven to 12 pallets of food back to the Calgary Food Bank. So if we’re lacking on (donations), it really affects our exports in the way that we’re sharing with our partners.”

The Calgary’s Veterans Association Food Bank also put out an urgent call for donations in November when organizers worried there wouldn’t be enough food to last them through Christmas. Financial donations were also down by half compared to 2020.

There are 1,150 emergency spaces in Calgary, and a little more than 900 people experiencing homelessness stayed in shelters Thursday night, according to information given to Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek’s office.

Earlier this month, a council committee approved a proposal to put $750,000 toward helping local shelters and community agencies increase service this winter.

‘Something so small can mean so much’

One community organization has stepped up to help a veteran’s food bank stock up supplies this winter.

The Kensington Business Improvement Area launched a community-wide food drive last month for the Veterans Food Bank of Calgary , a separate organization from the veterans association.

More than 30 Kensington businesses and organizations have had food hampers set up to collect non-perishable donations from visitors and local shoppers.

On Friday, the Veterans Food Bank of Calgary picked up the donated items along with a cheque for $600. Christmas cards created by first and second grade students at Hillhurst Elementary School were also included with the donation.

Annie MacInnis, executive director of the Kensington BIA, said it can be easy to feel hopeless when thinking of those who are suffering outside amid bitterly cold temperatures.

But it’s important to remember that everyone can do something to help out, no matter how big or small, she said.

“This is a small part of something that we can do to give back to others at this time of year. And aren’t we all hungry for those kinds of opportunities, where we can help, where we can pay it forward?”

Matt Bourdot, mutual fund representative at Scotiabank, said the Kensington branch had five boxes out for donations during the month-long campaign. Bourdot is a veteran himself, having served in the New Zealand military.

“We used to eat cold rations all the time when you’re in the field, but nothing gives you warmth like a hot meal. It’s amazing how something so small can mean so much,” Bourdot said. “I can appreciate how hard it is for these guys to not even have that to look forward to.”

The Veterans Food Bank of Calgary serves over 750 Albertan veterans, many of whom have lost their incomes due to the pandemic and are in need of help.

Don Green, operations manager at the Veterans Food Bank of Calgary, said the donation is greatly appreciated and will go a long way to help veterans in need.

“We know the veterans are gonna have turkeys for Christmas, which is nice to see,” Green said. “It’s a good feeling to know that there’s other people that do care enough to support them.”

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