June 12th, 2024

Increasing food bank use alarming

By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on October 31, 2023.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDapulido@lethbridgeherald.com

Food Banks Canada recently released their annual report on hunger and food bank use across Canada to provide an insight into the root causes of food insecurity and poverty.
HungerCount is the only national research study of food banks and other food programs in Canada, and was initiated by Food Banks Canada in 1989.
Executive director of Interfaith Food Bank, Danielle McIntyre told the Herald in a recent interview that the data was collected in March because it is a rather unsubstantial month.
“It’s not the new year, it’s not back to school time, there’s no major holidays, so it gives an average perspective on who is using the food bank and why they’re there,” said McIntyre.
According to HungerCount 2023, nearly two million visits to food banks were made by Canadians in March 2023, a 32 per cent increase compared with March 2022 and a 78.5 per cent increase compared with March 2019 (pre-pandemic). Which is said to be the highest in Canadian history.
“The numbers are ridiculously unacceptable. For us in Canada to have over two million visits to food banks in just one month is very sick and sad. The 78 per cent increase from pre pandemic numbers tells us that things are not getting better, and with the current affordability crisis coupled with the problems that we have with our social safety net, we’re at a breaking point,” said McIntyre.
She said Lethbridge tends to fare a little bit better than other communities in terms of crises because our economy is quite diversified, as in when one industry goes down another one is doing well.
 “But what we’re seeing now is that our numbers are a little bit higher than the national averages in terms of the number of children that we’re serving, the number of people who are employed. We’re also seeing increases in people that are living alone, which we are seeing that is the fastest growing demographic,” said McIntyre.
According to HungerCounter 2023, adults living alone and low-income workers are being left behind. Nationally, single person households represent an alarming 43.8 per cent of the households accessing food bank support.
 McIntyre said an increase in people living alone is seen as the fastest growing demographic in food banks across Canada, but here in Lethbridge that increase is about 41 per cent from what they saw in 2019.
 “It’s scary to us because there are a lot of programs that target specific populations like women, or children, or seniors, or new Canadians, but a large majority of single adults who live alone are men and there needs to be something done to make sure that that particular demographic is not being left behind,” said McIntyre.
The report states that while many of these individuals are tied to inadequate social assistance or disability supports, 17 per cent are working, but still not earning enough to keep enough food on the table. In 2022, almost one in five food bank users in Alberta were working, this year that number is closer to one in four.
McIntyre said statistically food banks serve a large percentage of people who depend on social assistance programs or disability programs because there hasn’t been substantial enough improvements to these programs for many years.
“But what is happening is that is getting worse and worse for those people in those categories,” said McIntyre.
According to a press release, the Interfaith Food Bank has seen an additional increase in food bank use since Hunger Count statistics were collected in March. In September, the food bank distributed eight per cent more hampers, serving 14 per cent more individuals than in March this year. Year over year statistics saw a 30 per increase in hampers and 40 per cent increase in individuals served.
While the comparisons are done for the most recent statistics, McIntyre told the Herald that compared to pre-pandemic numbers their usage has nearly doubled.
“We are up 99 per cent currently compared to our pre-pandemic numbers, so it’s almost double the number of people that we’re serving now. It’s important to note that during the pandemic when CERB and other income floors were established, where everyone was receiving a payment or had at least that $2000 a month, we saw food bank use cut in half,” said McIntyre.
 She said that means if people have enough money they will buy their own groceries, but those programs have ended and so those people returned to the food bank as well as new users on top of that because of the relentless inflation and the affordability crisis that we’re experiencing.
“I think the biggest thing is to look at the importance of having a realistic plan with measurable outcomes so that we don’t stay stuck in this mess and things don’t get worse,” said McIntyre.
In their report, Food Banks Canada suggests governments take a dual approach to address the root causes of food bank use by addressing low income and poverty, and the skyrocketing costs of living. To focus on addressing both affordability issues along with fixing our broken social safety net.
Their recommendations to do that include:
⁃ Rebuild our outdated and broken social safety net, fixing social assistance, disability and employment insurance programs.
⁃ Take action on an adequate income floor, bold action required for working age singles and people with disabilities.
⁃ React appropriately to the severity of the Housing Crisis, rapid construction of affordable units and introduction of short term solutions such as rental assistance programs.
⁃ Support for Low-income workers to guarantee those who work have money for food such as EI and Living Wage reforms.
⁃ Food security and poverty must get special attention in northern and remote parts of Canada, as well as for racialized communities.

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