THUNDER BAY – Leaders Ledger – In keeping with the giving spirit of this wonderful Christmas season I’d like to shed light on an important development being felt throughout Canada. The use of food banks in Canada is rising dramatically to the point where widespread shortages are now occurring. It is a national problem, but one that can be addressed at the local level.
According to Food Banks Canada there has been a full 31% increase in the public’s reliance on food banks since 2008. During the month of March alone more than 880,000 Canadians were customers at food banks, and this figure does not including the near 4 million meals that Food Banks Canada says were prepared and served by soup kitchens, school meal initiatives, shelters, and other programs last year. Considering these numbers on an annual scale, while taking into account the public’s increasing reliance on food banks, I believe this is an issue that simply cannot be ignored any longer.
When looking at the makeup of those across the country who need assistance, Food Banks Canada has found that 38% are youth, almost 50% are women, and 25% belong to single-parent families. While some of food banks, about 1 in 5, have reported a decrease in individuals requiring their services between 2011 and 2012 even more have seen an increase in demand of 25% or greater within that same time frame. Unfortunately the reality looks all the more alarming when Food Banks Canada estimates that the use of meal programs has grown by 23% in the last two years. By the end of 2012 it is estimated that nearly 50 million meals will have been prepared and served by Canadian meal programs. In Ontario, we have witnessed a nearly identical trend in comparison to nationwide numbers. Between 2008 and 2011 the hike in individuals turning to food banks was 31%. Similarly, children make up 38% of those requiring the help of food banks in Ontario, while 43% are women, and 25% are members of single-parent families.
While combating hunger is undoubtedly an immense challenge I believe that we can all play a positive role in our community by supporting the local food banks. It is ever more important when statistics from Food Banks Canada inform us that public support for food banks across Canada is dwindling. More than 55% of food banks are being forced to reduce the amount of food they provide to each household, and 60% of food banks are compensating for this loss through buying more food which is simply not viable in the long run. The problem is made all the more evident when 8% of food banks throughout the country were forced to shut their doors early this year, and 14% of food banks have actually run out of food at some point.
The overall numbers, while admittedly discouraging, should motivate us all to become more supportive our local food banks. There is no such thing as too much help in this regard, and with food distribution centers in Thunder Bay, such as the Paterson Family Food Centre, feeding at least 13,000 people a month (38% of which are youth) I believe that there is no reason for each of us to not to act now.
As we head into the Christmas and holiday season, let us each take a moment to help or contribute at one of the many food banks within our riding. You can find a list of local and regional food banks at: http://www.foodbanksnorthwest.ca/?pgid=3. Be it through a food donation or volunteerism, please go to your nearest food bank and take the opportunity to fill someone’s plate. Let us each give a bit to make this a better Christmas for all.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River riding