Honourable senators, it is 11 years ago today that I was appointed to this special place, the Senate of Canada — 11 years, it’s amazing. That was 2003. My life was about to change in many positive ways, but for thousands and thousands of Canadians, life and its prospects were drastically different from mine. In March of 2003, food banks in communities across the country assisted 776,783 people — 776,783 people. More than 40 per cent of them were under the age of 18.
I would like to think that Canada has managed to reduce its citizens’ dependence on food banks since that time, but that is not the case. In fact, the situation has worsened. Almost 850,000 Canadians turn to food banks every month. This reality is a clear symptom of poverty.
Illness, family breakup, job loss and other difficult circumstances are among the stories of those who are unable to meet their basic needs. People on social assistance turn to food banks, as do Canadians with disabilities and seniors living on fixed incomes. Food banks also help unemployed people and people who are working but whose wages are insufficient.
Thirty-seven per cent of those coming through the doors of food banks are children. Malnutrition affects children’s development, their growth, weight and even their capacity to pay attention and learn. The potential for lifelong negative effects from hunger in children is real, and each of these effects, as with hunger itself, is unjust. Children have the right to nutrition as much as they have the right to be safe, have a home and be cared for.
It is difficult for people to rise out of situations of poverty. Food banks provide assistance so they are better equipped to overcome the challenges they face. They offer something important to us, too — the opportunity to learn about hunger among Canadians and possible ways to put an end to it.
At the national level, Food Banks Canada works to bring us together on issues and strategies for improvements. The Ottawa Food Bank and hundreds of food banks across this country fight hunger with boots on the ground. They give food to those who need it. They make donations and volunteering easy and meaningful. With strong partnerships in the food industry and bulk purchasing power, food banks can turn a $1 donation into $5 worth of food.
Though the ideal situation would be one with no hunger and no poverty, that is not our current reality. That is why we need and I am grateful for the good work of Food Banks Canada and local food banks in communities everywhere.
Honourable senators, during this holiday season, please give what you can, where you can. Clients of the food banks are really your neighbours.