400,000 rely on food banks each month in Ontario

TheStar.com – news/article
Published On Tue Mar 22 2011.   Laurie Monsebraaten, Social Justice Reporter

Hunger is a daily reality for Mike Crawford, 56, as he treks across downtown Toronto in search of soup kitchens between monthly visits to a local food bank,

Crawford, who tumbled onto welfare after a nervous breakdown a decade ago, is among more than 400,000 Ontarians — or 3 per cent of the province’s population — who are forced to turn to food banks every month, according to a new report by the Ontario Association of Food Banks.

Food bank use has grown by an unprecedented 28 per cent since the recession in 2008, making Ontario the third highest user of food bank services in Canada behind Newfoundland and Manitoba, says the report released Tuesday.

Single adults on welfare, like Crawford, now make up the largest group of food bank users, according to the report, entitled “Running on Empty: A Decade of Hunger in Ontario.”

Single adults account for 38 per cent of users, up from just 26 per cent in 2002, says the report which is based on statistics collected in March last year.

“The numbers are staggering,” said the association’s executive director Ed Borkowski. “How many more reports need to be published before provincial politicians act?”

All political parties need to make hunger a top priority in next fall’s provincial election, says the association, a network of 20 regional food banks and more than 100 community food banks across Ontario. It is urging Ontarians to get involved by signing a petition on its websitewww.oafb.ca.

One glimmer of hope is that fewer families with children are using food banks. Although single parent families are still the second largest group of users at 30 per cent, that is down from a peak of 39 per cent in 2003, says the report. Two-parent families make up 22 per cent, down from 27 per cent in 2002.

The report credits the National Child Benefit which this year will help low-income families with up to $3,436 per child and the Ontario Child Benefit, which offers an additional $1,100 annually per child.

The proportion of new Canadians using food banks is also down to 15 per cent from a peak of 27 per cent in 2007, the report says.

The report blames the rise in food bank use on the recession, combined with rising food costs, high rents, the growth in minimum wage jobs that don’t lift people above poverty, and chronically low welfare rates — especially for single adults.

The association doesn’t make specific recommendations for change. But anti-poverty groups have urged Ottawa and Queen’s Park to cut food bank use by building more affordable housing, introducing new housing and healthy food benefits, reforming welfare, improving minimum wages and labour standards, and expanding employment insurance coverage.

For Crawford, who has just $40 left from his monthly welfare cheque after paying rent and utilities for a shared apartment at the Palace Arms Hotel on King St. W., soup kitchens are no recipe for relief.

An allergy to onions, means there is little he can eat that doesn’t throw his stomach into gut-wrenching pain.

At 5’ 9” and just 130 lbs., Crawford used to receive $100 a month from the Special Diet program that offers extra help for people on welfare with food-related health issues. But he lost that benefit about a year ago when officials removed food allergies from the program’s list of qualifying medical conditions.

“Most days I don’t eat anything,” he says.

Hunger in Ontario

402,000 Ontarians a month rely on food banks

68 per cent depend on social assistance, including 45 per cent on Ontario Works and 23 per cent on the Ontario Disability Support Program

5 per cent are pensioners

11 per cent have employment income

64 per cent live in private rental housing

Single adults are the largest group of food bank users, accounting for 38 per cent

Single parent families are the second largest group of users, accounting for 30 per cent

22 per cent are two-parent families

15 per cent are new Canadians

7 per cent are Aboriginals

Source: Ontario Association of Food Bank

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