It’s Thanksgiving — time for autumn colours, crisp evenings, turkey and pumpkin pie — and appeals from your local food bank. But how can it be that in one of the richest and most-favoured countries in the world, people are going hungry?
Why hunger in Canada is a growing concern
In Toronto alone, there were nearly one million visits to food banks in the year ending in March 2017, according to the 2017 version of Who’s Hungry: Faces of Hunger, the annual report by the Daily Bread Food Bank. That’s 9% more than in 2016, and a 24% increase over the pre-recession year of 2008. What’s even more troubling is the length of time clients depend on food banks: In 2010, the average food bank client relied on the food bank for 12 months; in 2017, that doubled, to 24 months. “Food banks in Toronto are becoming a long-term coping strategy rather than a short-term emergency measure,” notes the report.
Each month, nearly 137,000 people (including 41,500 children) made more than 650,000 visits to Montreal food banks, says Moisson Montreal’s 2017 report, The Hunger Count. Over 14 million kg of food was distributed there that year. These numbers are essentially unchanged from the previous year. “The need for help in Montreal is still very dire,” says the report.
- Read more: Why healthy food programs in school matter.
In Vancouver, the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society helps feed more than 27,500 people each week. When it was founded in 1982 (to address the effects of the recession of the time), it served 200 people.
Why can't so many Canadians afford food?
“How can this happen in Canada?” you might ask. Don’t we have a social safety net?
What we have isn’t enough, according to Who’s Hungry: Faces of Hunger. In cities such as Toronto, shelter costs are so high that for many people on social assistance, people with disabilities, refugees, new immigrants, seniors and, increasingly, the working poor, there isn’t enough money left over for food. Toronto food bank clients spend an average of 69% of their incomes on rent and utilities, leaving an average of $7.33 per person, per day for everything else, including food, says the report. Daily Bread is part of an umbrella group lobbying the provincial government to establish a housing benefit for low-income individuals and families, to help address this issue. In Montreal, where shelter isn’t as expensive as in Toronto or Vancouver, the issue is the rising cost of food.
How to help your community
Here’s what you can do to fight hunger in your community:
- Start donating groceries to your local food bank.
Food banks are always asking for donations of things like baby formula, tuna and peanut butter, as these are high-need, high-nutrition items, and they tend to get lots of volunteers to sort donations. But the volume of donated food rises and falls with the seasons, and many food banks frequently face empty shelves, and have to turn people away. Think about adding a “food bank” category to your weekly grocery list, and donating consistently throughout the year.
- Read more: 10 tips for healthy eating on a budget.
- Give money to food banks that are also registered charities.
As well as donating food, consider writing a cheque. That allows your food bank to take advantage of quantity buying and get more with your money. Plus, if the food bank is a registered charity, you can get an income tax receipt for your cash donation.
- Organize your own food drive.
Your local food bank needs hands to receive, sort and shelve the food coming in, and to prepare and distribute the food boxes going out. You could also organize a food drive – it could be something as simple as asking people to bring non-perishable food items to a special event, then delivering them to your local food bank.
- Read more: 4 ways to make the most of charitable donations.