February 15, 2019 1:00 am
Updated: February 19, 2019 2:16 pm

The face of hunger: What the problem looks like in Canada

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You may have an idea of what a person who relies on food banks looks like.  You envision a woman with tattered clothes or a man who begs for money at the bus shelter near your work.

If you take a closer look, you may be surprised to know that hunger can affect Canadians from every background and walk of life.

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“There’s a misconception that hunger doesn’t exist in countries like Canada. That children don’t go hungry [here] or that it can’t happen to you,” says Chris Hatch, chief executive officer at Food Banks Canada.

“The discussion…has a long way to go to achieve our vision of a Canada where no one goes hungry.”

From coast to coast, a network of more than 600 food banks help feed more than 1 million Canadians a month, new research conducted by Food Banks Canada reveals.

With a situation like this, it’s critical that campaigns like Walmart Canada’s Fight Hunger Spark Change exist. Their goal is to raise money for hungry Canadians. In partnership with Walmart, we describe what hunger can look like in Canada.

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How big is the food security problem?

A person is food insecure when they have inadequate or insecure access to food because of cost constraints.

To help fill that gap, Food Banks Canada shares about 200 million pounds of essential food every year to Canadians in need. That amount is steadily on the rise.

In March 2018 alone, there were more than 1 million visits to food banks in Canada.

Who is using them?

“We know…that people turn to food banks as a last resort – when all other options have been exhausted,” says Hatch.

The Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto notes in a 2018 report that 8 per cent of Daily Bread users were seniors. That number rose 5 per cent since 2008.

Overall, 34 per cent of visitors had a post-secondary diploma and 62 per cent had a disability— a steep rise from 48 per cent in 2008.

According to Food Banks Canada, those living alone make up 45.1 per cent of the households helped by food banks. At the same time, only 28.2 per cent of households in Canada are occupied by a single person.

Of food bank users, 17 per cent receive disability-related income supports. Just over nine per cent of households relying on food banks have no income at all. (Notably, one in six Canadians using food banks are employed.)

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Kids and seniors need help

Our youngest and oldest Canadians rely on food banks the most.

Citizens over the age of 65 make up 16.9 per cent of the Canadian population, yet account for 6.3 per cent of people using food banks. Of that number, one in nine receives income from a pension.

At the other end of the age spectrum, lone-parent households account for 19.1 per cent of those accessing food banks, notes Hunger Count 2018. (Single parent households only account for 10.1 per cent of all Canadian households.)

Babies under the age of two account for 5.4 per cent of those assisted by food banks, while children aged 12 to 17 account for 10 per cent of the population helped by food banks.

How you can help

“Walmart believes every family should have access to safe, good food. But for too many Canadian families, this simply is not a reality,” says Lee Tappenden, the president and CEO of Walmart Canada.

As part of their Spark Change Fight Hunger campaign, the company is trying to combat this. A portion of proceeds on select items purchased at Walmart will be donated to Food Banks Canada. They’ve also made it easy to donate money at check out and online at walmart.ca, and drop off non-perishable food items at donation food boxes located in-store.  This year’s goal is to donate 13 million meals to hungry Canadians.

Participating in the program is an easy way to help, but consider giving more regularly. Family holidays are popular times to make food donations but food banks need supplies and support year-round. Consider extending your charity beyond those events. Join the fight. Fight hunger. Spark change.

How will you fight hunger and spark change? Visit walmart.ca to learn more about the program and how you can help.

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