Canadian food banks see steady increase in demand

As the holiday season descends on us, the annual pleas for donations to local charities ring loud amid the merriment of the season.

It’s the season of giving. A time to lend an extra helping hand to those who need it most.

A new report from the Ontario Association of Food Banks shows the need for assistance is not going away.

In its 2018 Hunger Report, the association found demand for food banks services remains at “staggering levels” with more than 501,000 people accessing their local food bank in Ontario between April 2017 and March 2018.

Of those, 33 percent of the users were children. More than half of the users came from single person households.

Think about that for a minute. More than half a million people in one of Canada’s most populous provinces would not have had enough to eat last year if it weren’t for their local food banks.

Even more heartbreaking is the fact that too often those who rely on local food banks are using the services only when all other options have run out.

It’s safe to assume when the food bank is being used in an emergency, the person needing its help has probably been hungry for a while.

The numbers are even more striking for Ontario’s seniors, where poverty is on the rise.

The association found that the number of seniors over age 65 who are accessing their local food banks has increased by more than 10 percent over last year.

It’s a stunning jump — an increase that grew at a rate that is three times faster than the growth of Ontario’s entire senior population.

Even more concerning, the association said, is that Ontario seniors who are using the food banks are more likely to rely on the service regularly.

Twenty-five percent of the seniors who used the food bank, the report found, are using the service more than 12 times a year.

That’s compared to 13 percent of people who are under the age of 65.

The thing is, the association thinks that the number of seniors who are going hungry is actually higher than the figures reported.

Why? Because there is a “stigma around asking for help” as well as “barriers that might prevent seniors from accessing a food bank.”

So why are so many seniors in Ontario going hungry at a time when Canada’s agriculture industry continues to produce near record levels of high-quality farm and food products?

The Ontario Association of Food Banks has a few theories.

One is the decline in pensions. As of 2017, only 34 percent of the Canadian workforce was covered by an employee pension plan, the report noted, a 21 percent drop from 1982.

Not only that, but those who have a pension have seen the value of that fund depreciate, as more and more employers shift from defined benefit pension plans to defined contribution pension plans.

The changing pension landscape isn’t the only issue. More and more Canadians are also living paycheque to paycheque. Nor are they saving for retirement.

“While Canadians understand the importance of putting money away for the future, a changing job market and a rising cost of living has made saving for retirement a challenge,” the report noted.

Add to this a decline in government benefits, noting the “fixed income provided by the government has not kept pace with the rising cost of living.” In fact, it’s remained stagnant since 2002.

With so many seniors relying on their local food banks, the report warned Ontario is “on the verge of a crisis.”

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