People in Grande Prairie are being urged to open their hearts and cupboards for next week’s Rotary Community Food Bank Drive. Salvation Army Captain Peter Kim says the donations collected help build their Christmas hampers and fill their shelves for the rest of the year.

“Poverty and hunger are a reality in our community. People really do struggle these days and we really need food at the food bank because our shelves are empty and we really need help filling those shelves again.”

Volunteers will spread across the city from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on September 18th, collecting donations of healthy, non-perishable food, unopened personal hygiene items like toothbrushes and feminine products, and things for babies like diapers and formula. Kim says the use of the food bank has increased by nearly 50 per cent over the past three to four years, and he sees a year-round need for a diverse and growing group of people.

“We have seniors, we have single parents, we have those who are coming in for work and trying to make ends meet on limited jobs that are available. There’s quite a number of walks of life that come in.”

In the 2016 and 2017 holiday seasons, Kim says roughly 3,250 Christmas hampers were handed out. That demand looks to be over 4,000 this year. Use of the soup kitchen has also increased dramatically.

This year’s food bank haul will be temporarily stored at St. Patrick Catholic School, which is currently undergoing a modernization and not being used by staff and students. Grande Prairie and District Catholic Schools Superintendent Karl Germann says it’s the right place at the right time.

“They needed a location and it’s perfectly aligned with where their church is right within the neighbourhood, so it’s actually going to be a good use of that school prior to it actually opening up for our construction in the summer.”

Anyone donating to this year’s food drive is asked to watch for expiry dates, as the Salvation Army is responsible for the costs of throwing any out. Last year it says that added up to $12,000, which is considered to be a waste of 12 per cent of the food given.

Anyone not home at the time of the food drive can leave donations in a bag or box on their front steps. People are also asked to consider donating money online, which can help the organization buy bigger ticket items.

Volunteers are still needed for Tuesday’s event. The goal is to have 700 people canvassing the city, and organizers are short by about 250. People can sign up online.