Food Banks Canada just released Hunger Count 2010, an eye-opening report on hunger and food bank use in Canada. The report found that 867,948 Canadians (2.6% of the population) used a Food Bank in March 2010, which is the highest level of food bank use ever in Canada. It represents an increase of 9% over the last year and 28% over the past two years. While economists brag about how quickly Canada is recovering from the recession, the number of low income Canadians who are going hungry is on the rise.
For a quick overview of the key findings from the Hunger Count 2010 report, watch this video:
While the demand is growing, Canada’s food banks are finding it very difficult to meet that demand. According to the Food Banks Canada report, most food banks offer less than five days worth of food per visit and are able to offer help only once per month.
Despite universal healthcare in Canada, the report finds that income and health are intertwined. Poor health is often a barrier to being able to earn a decent income and not having enough income means that people cannot afford necessities like safe housing and nutritious food. The Canadian healthcare system is heavily focused on treating problems and perhaps not enough is being invested in preventative measures like good nutrition for all. While low income Canadians do receive some tax credits, there is nothing like the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program in the United States.
Food Banks Canada has developed a series of recommendations for reducing hunger and food bank use. They are:
- Implement a federal poverty prevention and reduction strategy, with measurable targets and timelines.
- Maintain current levels of federal cash and tax transfers to provincial, territorial and First Nations governments.
- At the provincial level, continue to reform income support programs of last resort, based on consultations with those living on low incomes.
- Create a federal housing strategy ot increase and monitor investment in affordable housing programs in Canada’s cities, towns and rural areas.
- Make the Employment Insurance system more fair, inclusive and responsive to changing labour market conditions.
- Increase federal investment in a system of quality, affordable, accessible child care.
- Address the high rates of low income among our most vulnerable seniors.
- Increase investment in the Canada Child Tax Benefit (CCTB), raising the maximum benefit to $5,100 per child, per year.
Although not addressed in the recommendations, one of the other challenges faced by food banks and those that use them is the quality of the food that is available. Generally, food banks are able to make a donation of money go much further than a donation of food. Unfortunately, when people give food instead of money, they often give food that has expired or that is unhealthy. People think that because they find Kraft Dinner to be comforting, that people using the food bank will too — unfortunately, they are wrong. People who want to help the food banks can donate funds to their local food bank or to organizations like Healthy Food Bank, which focuses on providing nutritious staples, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains to local food banks around the United States and Canada.
The need for food banks does not appear to be going away anytime soon in Canada. But strategies are needed to decrease dependence on them and to ensure they have sufficient resources.
Annie blogs about the art and science of parenting at the PhD in Parenting blog.
photo credit: Food Banks Canada (used with permission)