Ontarians’ use of food banks continues to rise

Volunteers hard at work helping to make hampers at Mindemoya Missionary Church.

Manitoulin’s population no exception

MINDEMOYA—Expect to see an increase in the number of people who need access to food banks in Ontario, including the Manitoulin Food Bank, as times get more difficult for seniors, families and individuals, say representatives of Manitoulin Family Resources and the Manitoulin Food Bank.

On Monday, the Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB) released its 2018 Hunger Report which revealed 501,590 individuals turned to a food bank last year alone. While the number of individuals accessing food banks is only marginally higher than the previous year, the report finds a staggering 10 percent increase in the number of senior citizens requiring emergency food and support, a growth rate nearly three times faster than that of Ontario’s senior population.

“Seniors are definitely an important part of the clients we help out and among the most vulnerable people who are in need of the food bank, and we have a lot of children, families and individuals that use it as well,” said Lisa Lanktree, acting executive director of Manitoulin Family Resources (MFR).

“There are a number of contributing factors to this emerging trend,” said Michael Maidment, chair of the OAFB Board of Directors. “One of the most significant being the rising cost of housing and the challenges related to trying to balance this expense while living on a fixed income.”

“Beyond the challenge of trying to balance a stagnant income against the rising cost of living, the increase in seniors accessing food banks reflects significant changes in the job market that have taken place over the last three decades,” says Mr. Maidment.

At this time of year, the MFR Food Bank works with many agencies, groups and volunteers on the Island to fill Christmas gift baskets. “To date we have 677 referrals for Christmas baskets,” said Denise LeBlanc, executive administration assistant of MFR. “And we know more requests are coming in. If we are down from last year (approximately 800 Christmas baskets) it will be a minimal decrease,” she said, noting the MFR Food Bank participated in the OAFB Hunger Report.

“Absolutely we agree with everything that has been raised in the release and report from OAFB,” said Ms. Lanktree. She pointed out the “food bank operates year-round, and along with Christmas being a particularly difficult time for people in need of the food bank, we find January and February are tough as well as at the start of the school year. It is at those times that we see an increase in use of the food bank.” She noted as well, “one of the issues has to do with transportation and the most vulnerable not being able to get here if they live on one end of the island or the other.”

“One thing that is very positive is the amount of support we receive from volunteers, agencies, organizations and individuals on the Island who help out,” said Ms. Lanktree. “We are looking to host a volunteer appreciation event in the future, to honour our volunteers. There is a long history of volunteers helping out the food bank on the Island, in terms of donations or their time and support in helping for instance with the Christmas food baskets. We depend on them.”

“And the local schools and churches all help out,” said Ms. Leblanc, “as well as a lot of local groups, Lions Clubs, the UCCM police and Manitoulin OPP. For example, the UCCM Police will come in with an enclosed trailer packed with stuff for the Christmas baskets that are then brought to the Manitoulin Missionary Church to be packed. And the allow us to use the trailer for storage.”

“And the Missionary Church allows us the space to put all the food and the baskets together,” said Ms. Lanktree. “It is a tremendous production line, with many, many volunteers on hand to pack the Christmas baskets. If this was up to staff to do we couldn’t do it. We have a lot of partnerships on the island and with donations of money and items being provided.”

“As always, non-perishable food items and monetary donations are encouraged and accepted,” said Ms. Leblanc. “With the changes being made with Ontario Works, we are expecting there will be an increase in the need for the food bank in the future.”

“Becoming partners with the (OAFB) has helped. With Sudbury Food Bank everything is shipped there and then to us,” said Ms. Leblanc.

“And it gives us more access to food,” said Ms. Lanktree.

The OAFB report points to both a decline in secure employment and employer-provided pension programs in favour of precarious work and contract positions as one of the reasons that adults have struggled, or are struggling, to buy a home or hold onto savings. It also highlights a recent poll by CIBC which found that 32 percent of Canadians between 45 and 65 years of age have nothing saved for retirement.

“Stagnant wages and unpredictable incomes mean more adults and families have no other choice but to spend their savings during rough patches,” said Mr. Maidment. “This creates a ripple effect that often extends into their later years, as low-income adults that are unable to save for retirement are more likely to experience poverty as seniors.”

The OAFB is calling on the Government of Ontario to implement policies that address the root causes of hunger, including investments in affordable housing and the commitments outlined in the National Housing Strategy. It is also calling on the federal government to help Canadian seniors by removing the barriers that make accessing each benefit difficult or impossible for those that need it most. Further, the OAFB recommends that the Government of Canada assume oversight of Ontario’s Basic Income Pilot as a possible evidence-based solution to poverty and trends related to a changing workforce.

The MFR Food Bank Christmas baskets will be packaged and delivered during the week of December 17. Every basket will include such items as ham, turkeys and other foods, and with the support locally and from the Sudbury Lions Club every basket will have enough Christmas gifts for every child in a family. “It is important that families who are struggling—parents want the best for their child, and each child will have a present for Christmas,” added Ms. Lanktree, who pointed out “we rely on donations and support of the community, as we don’t receive government funding or support.”