An Ontario group is calling on the federal government to address nationwide poverty and increase social assistance after it released a discussion paper this week that found Canadian food banks provide users with only nine per cent of their food needs on average.
The Put Food in the Budget report said food banks distribute 200 million pounds of canned and packaged food a year to 1.7 million Canadians, an average of 9.8 pounds of food per person per month. This amounts to just $295 worth of food a year, falling well below the amount necessary to meet anyone's nutritional needs.
"If all the effort dedicated to food banks — by volunteers, community organizations and corporations — is so inadequate measured against need, who benefits from food banks' continuing existence?" the paper states. "In other words, who is 'banking on food banks?'"
The answer to that question, according to the report, are some of Canada's biggest corporations that, they argue, have it in their best interest to maintain the gap in income inequality that has reached the highest level since 1930. The report found that 12 highly touted corporate holiday food drives, by companies such as Walmart, Target and Shaw Communications, contributed only 4.5 pounds of food per year valued at $11 to food bank users. This amount represents three per cent of total annual food bank donations.
"We cannot trust corporations in the fight against poverty," it goes on. "We must demand that governments fulfill their responsibility to provide for all members of society, and ensure that everyone has enough to live a life of health and dignity."
Of course, food banks are not intended to provide someone with three square meals every day of the year, but lend some assistance in times of need. Nor can our country's food banks eliminate poverty. So the report is calling on elected officials to look at the root cause and increase social assistance rates along with minimum wage.
"Paying recipients enough social assistance to pay the rent and buy their own food makes much more sense than food bank dependency. Why won't governments do this?" the report continued.
With these sobering statistics, the Put Food in the Budget campaign highlights a common misconception that simply donating to your local food bank is enough to help the hungry in your community, but in truth these efforts — no matter how noble of intention they are — are merely a Band-Aid for a much deeper wound. If we really want to give back, we need to start looking at the systemic hurdles in place that keep hundreds of thousands of Canadians living in poverty. In B.C. that number is estimated at 500,000, with 900,000 monthly food bank users. What's worse is a depressingly high percentage of those are children.
Whistler, of course, is not immune to this issue: In a town of 10,000 permanent residents, there were 2,370 visits to the local food bank last year, and 470 of those were by children. So with the holiday season upon us, and the spirit of giving at the forefront of our minds, try to remember that your donation to the food bank this year is a welcome and absolutely essential contribution — but it's not a cure-all for the greater issue at play.
The full report can be viewed at www.putfoodinthebudget.ca.