Food bank helps fill the gap

Okotoks: Majority of facility’s clients are “the working poor”

By: Bruce Campbell

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Nov 27, 2013 06:00 am

Okotoks Food Bank executive director Karen Wilke stocks the shelves at its location in the Okotoks United Church. The food bank helps feed 60 families a month.
Okotoks Food Bank executive director Karen Wilke stocks the shelves at its location in the Okotoks United Church. The food bank helps feed 60 families a month.
Bruce Campbell/OWW

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An Okotoks mom was loading up her vehicle with a week’s worth of groceries, toiletries and other items last week and as much as she cares for the people who help her, she would love to go to a different place to shop.

However, Jackie is just grateful the Okotoks Food Bank is there for her and the people who need it.

“I don’t think the people who work at this food bank get the recognition they deserve,” said the 45-year-old Jackie. “I am at a loss for words for what they do for me.”

Jackie has been using the Okotoks Food Bank on and off for the past 10 years.

“The food bank hasn’t only been important for me but to so many people around here,” she said, calling the staff: “The rays of the rainbow.”

She uses the bank to help feed the five people at her residence. Her family is one of many using the facility from time to time.

“Per month we probably serve about 60 families and that is anything from one to eight people per family,” said food bank executive director Karen Wilke.

The food bank offers food to Okotoks area residents, with no questions asked up to six times a year.

“If they reach six times, we send them to our partner agency, Healthy Family Resource Centre, and they will do an assessment and they will send them back with a referral letter,” Wilke said.

“Nobody is ever cut-off… We like to have our clients to go to the resource centre because that helps our clients get access to other resources as well.”

Some of the other resources could be finding help for clients to handle gambling, addiction or family issues.

However, the number one issue with most food bank clients isn’t some sort of addiction issue it’s economics — trying to make ends meet.

“We have many, many working poor (as clients),” Wilke said. “(For some) there are no drugs, it’s not alcohol, it is just not making enough to live here. And anything goes. If there is an injury and you can’t work, it is a quick slide to the bottom.”

She said she recently had a client use the food bank who was in near tears while explaining how quickly the family had to use the food bank after facing an economic setback.

Jackie’s friend, Janet, recalled the first time she used the food bank.

“Walking through these doors, you almost feel subhuman,” said Janet while fighting back tears. “You have to humble yourself so much.”

In most cases, the food bank is only a stopgap as the clients get back on their feet.

“Forty-five per cent of our clients only have to use the bank one time,” Wilke said.

It’s also important to have a food bank because a community never knows when disaster can strike.

“We served High River residents and host families during the flood,” she said.

The Okotoks Food Bank is located at the Okotoks United Church at 43 Riverside Drive. For more information call 403-651-6629. The other recipients for the Western Wheel Cares fundraising initiative are the Rowan House Emergency Shelter, the Foothills Country Hospice, The Sheep River Health Trust and the Magic of Christmas. For more information on Wheel Cares contact Gayle Wolf at 403-938-6397 or

To participate, call the Western Wheel office Monday to Friday from 9 p.m. to 5 p.m. (403-938-6397) and make a donation using your credit card. We also accept debit, cash and cheques (payable to Western Wheel Cares), either dropped off at the office, #9 McRae Street or mailed to Box 150, Okotoks, AB T1S 2A2 (please do not mail cash). Or visit to donate using Paypal.

All donations of $10 or more will receive a 2013 official tax receipt at the end of the campaign.


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