Food Banks Usage in Canada

Honourable senators, if there was an elected Senate, I would run and win.

Did honourable senators know that children and youth represent 21 per cent of our population, but they make up 38 per cent of those Canadians who use food banks? Did honourable senators know that people in Nunavut spend, on average, 25 per cent of their annual expenditures on food, as compared to 11 per cent within Canada overall? With exorbitant food prices like $17 for milk and $29 for cheese, it is easy to understand what “food insecurity” means and why it is so acute in communities across this northern territory.

At this time of the year, did honourable senators also know that every month, Canadian food banks provide about five days’ worth of food to a population equal to New Brunswick’s? According to Food Banks Canada’s annual survey report, HungerCount 2012, more than 882,000 people in this country received food from a food bank in March of this year, an increase of 2.4 per cent over 2011, 31 per cent higher than 2008.

Meanwhile, food banks are struggling to meet demand for their services. This past year, over half of Canada’s food banks had to cut back the amount of food they usually provide to households. Several food banks actually ran out of food.

While donations will always be necessary, they cannot address the root causes of this troubling and unacceptable problem. Each of us at each level of government has a moral, shared responsibility to cut this problem down to size. Why, more than 30 years since the founding of Canada’s first food bank, do people continue to need their help?

According to HungerCount 2012, the need for food banks has expanded and become more complex over the years. There are those who are clearly at higher risk of having to turn to food banks, such as children and youth, as I have mentioned, as well as Aboriginals, for example. However, it might be surprising for many honourable senators to learn that food banks also help out working people, two-parent families, seniors, homeowners and students.

When I was a reporter just a few years ago, I did a story on military personnel in Halifax having to go to food banks to make ends meet. Most people who use them do so only for a short period of time, but then there is always someone behind them who needs food.

Food Banks Canada singles out the basic reason more and more Canadians are turning to food banks. What is it? Simply, low income. There it is. The organization has used hard data to arrive at a series of strong recommendations. The federal government has to spend more on affordable housing, ensure adequate pensions for vulnerable seniors and improve prospects for well-paying jobs. In all, the recommendations involve every level of government and each of us. Here we are at the holiday season; think of this.

Honourable senators, I urge you to look at what Food Banks Canada is advising, and in your personal and official capacities do what you can to contribute to food banks.