Sharp increase in use of food banks; Visits back to recession levels seen almost 10 years ago: report

It is interesting to note that 62% of persons using the food banks have a disability.

Fatima Syed
The Toronto Star , Sept. 18, 2017

Suzanne Davison, a 72-year-old who lives in federal co-op housing in Toronto with her 63-year-old brother, goes to her local food bank every week.

On her last visit, she collected a tiny bag of potatoes, two cookies, a box of cereal, romaine lettuce, a little carton of milk, a bag of pretzels, a little jar of peanut butter, a Little Caesers pizza and cranberry juice.

The box of cereal was expired. She couldn’t have the cranberry juice because it’s full of sugar and she has Type 2 diabetes.

The rest will last two or three days.

Davison is a low-income senior, with a small pension and a brother on disability. Between the more than $1,000 she pays a month for rent, bus fares and phone bills – and the limited function in her right hand – the food bank is the only place she can go.

“The whole problem is lack of income,” Davison said. “You can only do so much with the money you get, right?”

Food-bank visits in Toronto are back to levels seen during the height of the recession almost 10 years ago, according to the newest “Who’s Hungry” report by the Daily Bread Food Bank, with usage by seniors like Davison increasing by 27 per cent.

According to the report, many seniors don’t seem to be receiving all the federal benefits they are entitled to.

In particular, many are not receiving the Guaranteed Income Supplement – a program that is also excluding newcomer families.

“I can’t work, and my pension is taxed, and I don’t have (Ontario Disability Support Program) or welfare,” Davison said. “(The food bank is) not all that great, but it’s better than starving to death.”

Kate Halsey, a food bank co-ordinator for Yonge Street Mission in Regent Park, has worked at food banks for more than three years and has watched the rise in food-bank usage first hand.

“It is startling to me that senior population access of food banks is increasing,” Halsey said.

On a daily basis, she said the Yonge Street Mission registers at least three new people for the food bank: varying from newcomers to Canada who have master’s and PhD degrees but not enough money for food; people who go back to school and are paying tuition; and people who are just trying to make ends meet at the end of the month.

“It could be anyone, it could be your neighbour, it could be your grandmother, your best friend,” Halsey said. “It could also be the man on the corner. There’s not a population we serve more than others.”

Alongside increased usage by seniors, the report found that the rise in food-bank visits has largely been driven by a jump in Scarborough, where usage has risen by 30 per cent over the last year, compared to the four per cent rise in other parts of the city.

Other notable findings in the report include:
Close to 20 per cent of those assisted by a food bank are employed or recently employed.
62 per cent of users have a disability.
35 per cent have post-secondary education.

Similar statistics were found in another recent study by Food Banks Canada, which surveys more than 3,000 agencies across the country.

It found that on average, food banks help more than 850,000 Canadians every month. It also noted that:
More than half of Canadians polled know someone who has visited a food bank.
More than one-third of people helped by food banks are children.
One of six people assisted by food banks are employed.

“Food banks are really that last resort so they really have to have broad shoulders to be able to help the increasing number of people that walk through their doors,” said Marzena Gersho, communications director at Food Banks Canada

The official definition for “hunger,” according to Gersho, is “when a household lacks physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

Starting Monday, food banks are leading Hunger Awareness Week in hopes to start a conversation around these statistics and changing landscapes.

Gersho would like Canadians to support local food banks but also demand policy changes that closely examine the roots of poverty, hunger and welfare

“We need to remind everyone that we really do have people who are struggling,” Gersho said.

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