TORONTO – When times are tough, many families turn to food banks.
“Four million Canadians are living in households where there’s a struggle to afford the food that they need,” said Valerie Tarasuk, a professor of nutritional science at the University of Toronto. “That is a big problem.”
At St. Paul’s on-the-Hill Community Food Bank in Pickering, some shelves are almost empty: A result of a slowdown in donations over the summertime and the economy as many people have lost jobs.
“They’re lined up outside before we’re even open, “said Mae Herridge, a volunteer. “A lot of them have young children.”
Janet Herrera, keeps track of the food bank’s more than 6,300 clients, which is a thousand more than last year.
“A lot of people come to door and say, ‘I never thought I’d be at a food bank.’ That’s how bad it is,” said Herrera.
Sometimes people just can’t afford to donate to food banks.
“If there’s job loss, you sometimes gain a client and lose a donor,” said Gail Nyberg, executive director of the Daily Bread Food Bank. “People using food banks are people just like us. They are people in everyday society that have had that one life crisis.”
Food banks are no longer the temporary solution they were meant to be.
“We are seeing people in the workforce also ending up there because there’s no place else for them to go,” said Tarasuk. “Think about it; if you’re somebody right now who’s exhausted all of your resources and has no money to buy the food that you need – what is available to you? Nothing but the charity provided by food banks. You can’t go to a government office, welfare workers won’t issue you another cheque.”
Many food bank experts agree.
“It’s not a crisis of food it’s a crisis of income,” said Nyberg, “Many people have gone back to work but they’ve not gone back to work to the same kind of jobs. They’re having part time jobs or a series of part time jobs, no benefits. So there are still people in crisis from that recession.”
Food banks are becoming more than just a place to go to for food. They’re a place for families in crisis to turn to for information on housing, public health and other social services.
“If you can serve that person in food bank with community garden, some employment help you’ve become a multi-service agency working with the whole client not just the fact they’re hungry, “said Nyberg.
Fall food drives will soon ramp up with hopes to fill empty shelves. Experts believe a longer term solution needs better social policy from all levels of government.
“We need to take a closer look at tax benefits and credits that we’re giving to people in the workforce that are working but not bringing home enough money to make ends meet,” said Tarasuk.