24 december 2012

Food bank usage in Canada on the rise, despite economic recovery


Photo: CBC report

Canada is a rich, prosperous country, yet there are hundreds of thousands of people who rely on food banks every month.

“We see close to 900,000 Canadians walk through the food banks each and every month for some help for much needed food, to help themselves and their families. Fifty per cent are families, and in fact 38% of those that are helped are children”, says Katharine Schmidt, executive director of Food Banks Canada, a national charitable organization which represents 1,943 community food banks across the country.

Since 2008, food bank usage has increased 31 per cent. “Over the last two years our numbers have stayed stubbornly high,” says Schmidt.
“Typically, food bank use very closely matches the economic climate of the country," she adds.

There is usually a delay before people living in poverty recover. But this time the lag seems to be taking longer.

“Communities that were hardest hit this time by the recession are still the communities that are seeing an increase in food bank usage and often, sadly, are the communities that are least able to help people that need the help most," says Schmidt.

Half of food banks in Canada saw an increase in demand in 2012. (Source: Food Banks Canada)

Low income a key factor

Food banks were created in 1981, as a temporary measure, but the need for them continued and even increased over the years. One of the main reasons contributing to the situation is a “significant shift in the job market in Canada." Over the last 18 years, many high quality jobs were lost across Canada, and were often replaced with lower paying, part-time or temporary service-sector positions.

“The situation is very complex. It’s going to take some time for us to figure out how to change the landscape in Canada," says Katharine Schmidt.

Food Banks Canada makes a series of recommendations for federal and provincial governments to improve the situation, including investing in more affordable housing, improving social assistance and protecting single senior citizens, who are most vulnerable among the elderly.

Close to 40% of food banks are run solely by volunteers. (Photo: CBC report)

More than food assistance

Food banks provide more than food and personal care products. They offer a variety of different types of programs, such as training in food preparation, assisting with the search for affordable housing, providing referrals to other social services or helping people to search for jobs.

For some people, food banks are also a place to socialize.

“[It’s] a place they can go where they’re being treated fairly and are leaving feeling a little bit better than maybe they felt when they arrived," says Schmidt.

Close to 40% of food banks are run solely by volunteers. Many of them are or were recipients themselves.

“People are so thankful that a food bank was there when they needed it most, that they’re very willing to give back when they’re back on their feet and able to help out," she says.

Food bank usage in Canada in 2012 (figures from HungerCount 2012)

   - 93,000 people each month access a food bank for the first time
   - 38% of those turning to food banks are children and youth
   - 4% of adults helped are over age 65
   - 11% of people assisted are Aboriginal
   - 52% of households helped receive social assistance
   - 18% have income from current or recent employment

Gilda Salomone spoke with Katharine Schmidt, executive director of Food Banks Canada, a national charitable organization that represents 1,943 community food banks across the country.
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