• Sat. Dec 2nd, 2023

Food For the Hungry

Because So Much Is Riding On Your Food For the Hungry

Calgary Food Bank CEO steps down amid skyrocketing demand for aid

James McAra didn’t give a reason for his exit but said he’s proud of the work that’s been done by him and his colleagues during challenging times

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As demand for its services has doubled in recent years amid ballooning food insecurity, the CEO of the Calgary Food Bank has resigned.

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In a Tuesday email, food bank board chairman Amy Leong said James McAra had stepped down effective immediately after 22 years at the non-profit agency and 15 years as its CEO.

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“On behalf of the board, we extend our heartfelt thanks to James for his commitment to the Food Bank and the cause for the past 22 years. We wish him all the best in his next adventure,” she stated.

In a statement, McAra didn’t give a reason for his exit but said he’s proud of the work that’s been done by him and his colleagues during challenging times.

“This has been a formidable challenge but one gladly taken without fear,” he said.

“Now is the time for me to pass the baton to our next leaders so that they can guide and shape the organization for the future.”

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Filling in for McAra on an interim basis is the food bank’s former inventor and logistics director Michael Pasma.

The departure comes at a time when demand for the food bank’s services has reached stunning levels — 106 per cent more than in 2019 compared to an Alberta average of 73 per cent and a national figure of 35 per cent.

Food bank officials say that’s due to the pandemic and ongoing economic pressures and inflation rates not seen in four decades.

“It’s really quite alarming to see (food-bank-use figures),” said spokeswoman Shawna Ogston.

“(McAra) made a very difficult and hard decision to step down. We’ll miss him.”

But she said McAra has placed the food bank in a solid position to meet the challenge of an increasingly hungry city.

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“It’s full steam ahead — the good thing is, he nurtured everyone he worked with to a place where people here are so strong,” said Ogston.

Said his interim successor Pasma of McAra: “His heart, loyalty and dedication to the Calgary Food Bank’s mission were inspiring and contagious. Yet despite his departure, we will continue to help Calgarians thrive.”

The leadership transition also happens just as the food bank and other charities enter the crucial pre-Christmas period when demand for their services further increases, said Ogston.

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“Fortunately, people are always generous at this time of year,” she said.

The Calgary Food Bank saw 29,000 visits in March 2022, representing around 11,000 hampers distributed — 2,000 more hampers than in 2021 and nearly 5,000 more than 2020.

Of those clients, 37 per cent were children, 11 per cent were single-parent households and 42 per cent were single individuals.

Food banks say increasing costs for many commodities and the squeeze it’s putting on donors is impacting them.

McAra successfully led the food bank at a critical juncture, said Franco Savoia, the former executive director of anti-poverty advocacy group Vibrant Communities Calgary.

“With his team he has evolved the operation and provided the necessary and needed changes through the pandemic,” said Savoia.

 “He leaves the Calgary Food Bank in a strong position from which it can now evolve to meet the needs of people in a post-pandemic Calgary.”

[email protected]

Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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