Fuel Good Day: Okotoks Food Bank

September 12, 2017

Fuel good logoJust by filling up your gas tank at local Co-op gas bars you can help local charities — and YOU get to pick where your money goes.

On Tuesday, September 19, Calgary Co-op will donate 5¢ per litre of gas or diesel purchased from our gas bars.

From now until September 19, visit the voting page to choose the community organization you’d like to receive your donation.

After the votes are tallied, each organization will receive the percentage of the donation that corresponds with the percentage of votes they receive.

We’re looking at all the charities and what they do to help you make your decision. Today, meet the Okotoks Food Bank.

Getting to know Okotoks Food Bank

If there was a time when food banks in southern Alberta had an ‘average client’, they don’t any longer.  Since Calgary’s economy first began slumping several years ago, the type of person you might think needs help from a food bank has changed drastically.

“We see a lot of families that you think typically wouldn't have to come to the food bank,” explains Sheila Hughes, Executive Director of the Okotoks Food Bank. “A lot of people that are in transition, that experience job loss, or their hours have either been completely cut, or they've had a reduction in hours. Maybe a breakdown of the marriage, an unexpected emergency, like getting a $3,500 vehicle repair bill. With food being the most flexible item on the budget, that’s usually what gets cut when they have to do something like that.”

Okotoks Food Bank provides both emergency assistance to those in need, but also a more reliable source of healthy food through regular food hampers.

Clients can access hampers up to six times in a year, but the Okotoks Food Bank also has what it calls a ‘Help Yourself Shelf’ where people can choose specific foods or other items they need, from diapers to dish soap, baked goods to beans. There’s also plenty of fresh food too.

While Hughes says it can be intimidating to ask for help, the Okotoks Food Bank tries to make clients feel comfortable.

“I've had people where their hands are just wet with perspiration, they’re so stressed to come,” admits Hughes. “We're big huggers down here so we try to make sure people are really comfortable. We try to make sure that if they need a hug, if they are upset or if they're crying, we're there for them.” 

Hughes says sometimes people come through the door insistent their spouse not know they’re accessing the food bank. In other cases, they’re feeling ashamed.

“They say, ‘I'm the person who fixes the problems, I'm the one who people come to for help, I'm the one who is always there and can always lend a hand, but here I am not able to put food on the table for my family’.”

Since the downturn, Hughes is hearing more and more of these kinds of stories. But she says the Okotoks Food Bank is succeeding at helping people with what’s often a temporary setback. 

“Sometimes I might see them out in the community — and I will only acknowledge clients if they want to be acknowledged — sometimes you just get a little smile and a nod. That's enough to know that they're okay. 40% of our families only come once. Some people just only need that one time help.” 

And not surprisingly, former clients are often strong future supporters of the food bank.

“We've had some people that came to the food bank, then came back to volunteer or they came back and brought in a donation. They said ‘you were there for us when we needed it, when we were completely at our wit’s end’ and they come in with a donation. It's really heart-warming, that donation meant so much.” 

Hughes and the Okotoks Food Bank are grateful for the support of customers as part of Fuel Good Day.

“It's a real honour to be acknowledged by Co-op. I think that is fantastic. They are a great community supporter. We're really thankful and it definitely exciting.” 





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