Food banks feeling pinch as use among Canadians climbs

The economic downturn is hitting Canadians at the kitchen table and placing added strain on the resources of food banks, with a new survey revealing a sharp increase in the number of people relying on their services.

The economic downturn is hitting Canadians at the kitchen table and placing added strain on the resources of food banks, with a new survey revealing a sharp increase in the number of people relying on their services.

Food Banks Canada says the number of Canadians using food banks has risen by about 20 per cent in the past year.

The findings are based on survey results last March compared to March 2008, when more than 704,000 people were assisted by a food bank, according to the organization’s HungerCount report.

“We already had a persistent, unacceptable problem, and in the last year it has increased significantly,” said Katharine Schmidt, executive director of Food Banks Canada, referring to the number of people going hungry.

Some parts of the country have seen a greater than average demand for the services of food banks. In Penticton, B.C., there has been a 37 per cent increase in food bank usage since last year.

Christine Simmons, community ministries director for the Salvation Army Community Food Bank, said Penticton has seen the closure of three major businesses, including a call centre, and manufacturing job losses.

Since last December, Simmons said there’s been an average of 10 new households a week seeking the food bank’s help — or about 50 new mouths to feed.

“Their cost of living has remained the same and their expenses have remained the same but they’re finding themselves in a situation where they can’t make ends meet,” she said. “We’re also seeing people having to come back to us who probably have not had to use the food bank for the past three to four years.” Relying exclusively on food and monetary donations, Simmons admits that supplies are “fairly low at the moment” and the increasing numbers of clients have placed a strain on the food bank.

“Even the folks who are regular donors to the food bank, some of them have come to us and said ‘You know, I’m having to cut back (on) my donation. I still want to give to you but I’m not able to give as much as I usually do.’ So of course, that has an impact as well.”

Adam Spence, executive director of the Ontario Association of Food Banks, said there’s been a 20 per cent increase in people turning to food banks across the province, with communities with high job losses like Windsor, Oshawa and Thunder Bay among those hardest hit.