humanitarian issues / poverty / social justice

Use of Food Banks in Ontario Hits Record

Article from today’s Toronto Star written by Laurie Monsebraaten

http://www.thestar.com/news/ontario/article/732987–use-of-food-banks-in-ontario-hits-record?bn=1

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More Ontarians turned to food banks in the past year than ever before, says the Ontario Association of Food Banks in a report released today.

It’s a sobering counterpoint to economic indicators that suggest the recession is technically over, says the report based on data collected in September.

More than 375,000 Ontarians – a population size comparable to the city of London – relied on food banks that month, an increase of 19 per cent over September 2008, the report says.

Previously, the largest year-over-year increase was from 2007 to 2008 when food bank use rose by 11 per cent after two years of slight decreases, said the association’s executive director Adam Spence.

“We’ve never seen anything like this before … and it shows that the experience of many people is markedly different than what economic forecasters are saying,” he said in an interview Monday.

Toronto saw an increase in demand of 14 per cent this year while food bank use in Oshawa and Mississauga shot up by 18 per cent and 29 per cent respectively.

In the GTA, 120,000 people per month are using food banks, an increase of 20 per cent over last fall.

The report blames this year’s spike on rising unemployment, increased costs of basics and inadequate government supports, notes that one-third of households turning to food banks were headed by someone employed full-time, part-time or employed in the last six months.

The report paints “an uncomfortable and distressing picture” of Ontario where tens of thousands live on meagre incomes in poor housing with chronic health conditions.

With a median age of 28.7, food bank users are about 10 years younger than the Ontario median, live in households where the average income is well below Statistics Canada’s low-income cut off and spend an average of 65 per cent of their income on rent and utilities.

One-third of all food bank users are recent immigrants and more than half of those immigrants have post-secondary education.

Hunger in households forced to rely on food banks is palpable, says the report. In a quarter of these households, children miss breakfast at least once a week. In one-third, at least one family member misses three or more meals a week. And almost three-quarters of people in these households don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables.

In almost half of these households, at least one member has a chronic health condition including diabetes, asthma, cancer, cerebral palsy or HIV/AIDS. And in more than half, at least one household member couldn’t afford glasses, drugs or a visit to the dentist.

“In the face of an increase in hunger and significant deprivation amongst families living in poverty, we believe that the provincial government cannot abandon its resolve in the fight against poverty, and the federal government must join the cause,” the report concludes.

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