This spring I wrote about our work in March and the answers I supplied for the annual Hunger Count survey (read it here). Well, the national stats have been tabulated and Food Banks Canada have released the official Hunger Count report, as well as a nice video summary.
There aren’t too many surprises for us in their report. Demand across the country is still very strong, with 2010 seeing a 9.2% increase in demand from last year.
The demographics of food bank use also remain almost unchanged. As usual, large numbers of food bank users are single, or single parents. And, overall, most families and individuals rely on social assistance or provincial disability programs for their primary income source.
There still remain significant barriers to the labour force for a lot of people and many people are forced to spend too much of their day dealing with the ongoing crisis of inadequate income and no food. For example, last week we met a single parent, who had injured their back at work and was subsequently abandoned by their spouse. Living in a bachelor apartment with their two children they struggle to get onto Ontario Works and had no choice but to come to us for assistance.
But even Ontario Works isn’t always an option for people, like a family that came in this week. They were recently cut off from employment insurance, have been unable to find work over the last year as the bills piled up and are now desperately trying to sell their home before it is foreclosed.
So is this region seeing the same increase that is happening on the national level? Locally, for us, demand is still strong. In fact, March, the month Food Banks Canada looked at in their survey, was our busiest so far this year. The first five months of 2010 we were busier than the same period in 2009 which initially, was very worrying. In May of this year however, demand started to decrease, and as of the end of October we are now almost 1100 hampers behind last years January to October total (27745 last year vs 26650 hampers given out so far this year).
Most of that decrease this year happened in the summer months. We still did 7258 hampers in June, July and August this year, but that is compared to 8207 last year for the same period. So, we’re not currently ahead of last years record breaking distribution numbers which is a positive sign. We are however, a little over 2900 hampers ahead of 2008′s distribution number for the same period. That’s more than a months worth of food distribution that we are ahead when you compare this year with 2008. So, with the economic situation as it is, things are still not turning around for us, and hunger is very much a daily part of many people’s lives locally.
So what can we take away from this years report? Hunger continues to exist in our community. What does it matter? It matters a lot. This persistent poverty and hunger day after day makes our society sicker. It takes years off people’s life expectancy as food is an important social determinant of health, much like housing and income are. Read more about the social determinants of health here on Health Canada’s website or here in one of my other blog posts. An additional free resource is available here for download in pdf form.
For some international perspective, in the United States this week, the Wall Street Journal was reporting on statistics released by the U.S. Agriculture Department on the number of American food insecure households in 2009. Read it here. Overall, they reported small increases over 2008 but, still a large number of people had trouble getting food for their families. Canada is not alone, but that’s not something we should take comfort from.
How do we as Canadian’s move towards a future where food is not a source of worry and shame? Food Banks Canada has a list of objectives, summarized neatly at the end of the video above. You can also view some comments from Katherine Schmidt from Food Banks Canada on CTV here. The basic premise is to rethink how we support people as they move from unemployment to a new job, find retraining, deal with disability and illness and live out their old age. Those are big long term objectives that we all have a say in shaping. If you want to do something, today, you can help the Food Bank of Waterloo Region and you can help us, the Emergency Food Hamper Program, get food on the table of the people who are hungry today. Get involved here.
The long term objectives will have to sorted out by everyone and are the real solution to hunger. Do your part by staying informed about the issues, and as we move into the Holiday Season, keep your less fortunate neighbours in mind.