Food banks drawing more users

By PAT WATSON

Have you tried recently to explain to the folks back home that things are not so great in certain parts of Canada right now? All things being relative, however, your ‘not so great’ might be ‘not too bad’ to someone else in a place a bit removed from this supposedly affluent country.

But have you tried telling them, over their requests for you to send them a little something, that there is not even a little something to send because, of late, you yourself have to find your way to a food bank before the end of each month?

One of the great pleasures in life is to give generously to others, especially to those who are in need, and especially at this time of year.

The Christmas season is fast approaching and that usually means gift buying and gift giving. It means sending home that special package for the family there to sweeten their Christmas. But how will that be possible when it has been difficult going for many this year across this country?

The truth can be found at the food banks where there has been an increase in the number of individuals and families relying on them for food supplies to carry them through until the end of the month. In a country of 34 million, so rich in resources, we have achieved a new level of need for food among the most vulnerable.

In March, 867,948 sought the help of food banks according to the HungerCount 2010 survey. At the same time last year, 73,000 people relied on foods banks. Those who have been going to food banks this year represent a 9.2 per cent increase over 2009 while growing to 28 per cent more than the same period in 2008. This year, more than 80,000 people used food banks for the first time. Half of the people seeking food aid are families with children. What is more troubling is that it is not only people who are unemployed or receiving government financial aid that are relying on food banks. The survey found one in five seeking food aid is employed.

When a person has a job or, these days, perhaps two jobs and still cannot afford food then we are in a crisis. The difficulty for many of us is that wages cannot keep up with the cost of the most basic necessities: shelter, electricity and fuel costs.

The average weekly wage for a job in the retail trade is $500 while the average for service jobs such as food services is $360. Compare that to the average monthly cost for a one- or two-bedroom rental unit at $926 and $1,096 respectively.

Consider that the cost of electricity just shot up, that more will be used with winter on its way, and it is clear that something is going to have to give. For the growing number of food bank users who spend on average almost 80 per cent of their income – at a median monthly income of $890 – on housing including utilities, it’s spending on food that suffers.

We need a comprehensive national program to support the basic shelter needs of the most vulnerable, those on low and fixed incomes and pensions. But, apparently, our government would rather spend billions on fighter jets, than tackle unglamorous challenges such as poverty and the cost of electricity and housing for the poor. Canadians, including tens of thousands of children, are literally hungry for adequate, reliable support.

Like any other dysfunction, these problems are rarely resolved by the individual. They require committed action and in this case a great deal of political will. Otherwise, we can expect the government to keep being “Scrooge” to the needy Tiny Tims among us.

A note on your word being your bond…

Prime Minister Harper, like so many politicians before him who promised to be different yet eventually were not, has stepped away from his often-repeated commitment to return Canadians troops from Afghanistan in 2011. These days, the value of everything goes up with the exception, it seems, of a person’s word. Of course, the irony of this kind of situation is that those who we wish not to keep their word, like Mike Harris did when he was premier of Ontario, actually do.

 

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