Column: Hunger count report offers food for thought

Some people might have a stereotypical image of someone needing food as a homeless person. But in reality it could be anyone.

Chilliwack food bank manager Don Armstrong is shocked by the recent spike in food bank users. They're seeking donations to keep up with the growing demand.

On Wednesday, Chilliwack’s Salvation Army held its city-wide food drive. Service clubs, churches, sports teams, and various groups went door-to-door collecting non-perishable food items to restock shelves that have been getting alarmingly empty.

“The food bank is in desperate need of food,” said Don Armstrong, food bank co-ordinator. “We have less than a month’s supplies and the need has doubled over the last year. There are a lot of seniors in need and we are getting a lot of people on a low income or minimum wages who are struggling.”

It’s really tough to make ends meet for those on a minimum wage, low income, or a pension.

Chilliwack Progress reporter Sam Bates wrote last month that the Chilliwack Food Bank served 5,499 people in March. That represented an increase of 1,000 people over the February number of 4,433. Both those months were a big spike from February 2015 when 3,240 people were helped and March 2015 when 3,771 people received food.

And the pain is everywhere.

On Monday, Food Banks Canada launched its second annual “Every Plate Full” summer campaign. The aim is to urge Canadians to continue making donations to food banks and help address the 26,548,725 summer meal gaps hungry Canadians cope with. Food donations are often at their lowest from June to August. Yet the need doesn’t go away.

This month, over 120 food organizations across the country are aiming to raise critical amounts of food and funds in order to put food on the shelves during the summer.

“Over 918,000 men, women and children will have a really difficult time accessing enough food during the summer months,” says Pam Jolliffe, executive director, Food Banks Canada. “In turn, food banks will also find themselves under strain to meet the need as food bank shelves slowly get bare.”

In November 2015, Food Banks Canada released its annual Hunger Count Report. In March last year, 852,137 people received food from a food bank somewhere in Canada. More than one-third of them were children. That’s an increase of 1.3 per cent over 2014 and a huge 26 per cent jump over 2008 when a low point was reach of 675,735 people with food needs.

The total number of people who turned to food banks in British Columbia in 2015 reached 100,086, a huge jump from the 78,101 people receiving help in 2008. Last year’s number also represents a 2.8 per cent increase over 2014 with 31.5 per cent of the people being children. According to the report, it’s the highest level of food bank use on record in the province with 59.3 per cent of food banks reporting an increase. Those receiving help included single people (53.6 per cent) living in a rental home (74.0 per cent), on social assistance (33.l per cent) or on disability-related income support (31.7 per cent).

Some people might have a stereotypical image of someone needing food as a homeless person. But in reality it could be anyone. It could be a friend, a neighbour, a family down the road where both parents are working but don’t have enough money after paying bills to properly feed their children. It could be a senior struggling alone, someone who was happily employed but had an accident and is now on disability, or a person who had a good job but was laid off due to cutbacks and can’t find employment.

Food banks are at best a stop-gap measure. They aren’t the solution to a family’s food insecurity. Affordable housing, an overhaul of the welfare system, and education and skills training for gainful employment in growth industries would all help to put job opportunities within reach of those in need.

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