With the grips of winter and the holiday season quickly closing in, use of food banks is beginning to grow.
The annual Hunger Count report, released by Food Banks Canada last week, showed more than 852,000 Canadians – including more than 305,000 children – accessed a food bank during the month of March. That is a troubling statistic as it demonstrates a 26 per cent increase (175,000 more people) from when the economic downturn began in 2008 and is the second consecutive year food bank visits have increased.
The real shock comes when much of that increase came in Alberta, where use has risen 23 per cent from one year ago.
Ponoka Food Bank president Dean Hill explained that while they have yet to see that kind of dramatic increase locally, they are seeing more people drop in and anticipate use of the hamper program will go up soon.
“We have seen an increase in the use of our free food bin,” Hill said.
“People come in and take what is there, there is always something on hand. However, we haven’t noticed a big jump in the number of people getting hampers like they have experienced in other areas of the province.”
Hill stated they normally get a hike in hamper applications around this time of year and might see a larger than normal increase this year due to the harder economic times.
“It always goes up at this time of year. However, we haven’t witnessed a huge jump because I think the area here has a more diverse economy and the people may not have been hit financially as big as in other places,” he said.
Hill added that through the tremendous support of the entire community – both monetarily and with food donations – the Ponoka Food Bank is doing its best to provide all it can.
And it’s the food budget that usually gets cut back, according to the national study that involved more than 4,000 food programs.
“In the short-term, people turn to food banks for diverse reasons – layoffs, a sudden illness, a rent increase that eats into a family’s food budget,” stated Katharine Schmidt, executive director of Food Banks Canada.
“The underlying issue that has kept food bank use so high for so long is the fact that millions of Canadians are trying to make ends meet with incomes that fall far below what is needed to afford the basic cost of living.”
The report also included several recommendations that would better support Canadians and reduce food bank use such as more investments in affordable housing, increasing assistance in skills training to get better jobs and better access to traditional and store-bought foods for northern Canadians.
A full copy of the HungerCount 2015 report is available at www.foodbankscanada.ca/hungercount2015.