Hot! Cost of food peanuts compared to price of poverty

nugget.ca – localnews/article
Posted on January 22, 2011.   By Dave Dale

Joanne Poirier was busy chopping green peppers at the Gathering Place soup kitchen Thursday morning.

Directly in front of her counter, a media conference was taking place about the social service recipe for feeding people in need.

Unfortunately, it’s a formula missing important ingredients.

And representatives of the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit, North Bay Food Bank and soup kitchen said the number of mouths to feed is growing.

The solution, they said, requires two or three shakes of income and a pinch more affordable housing to make basic, healthy food within reach.

Unhealthy diets lead to chronic disease, and more problems at school and work.

An annual measurement of the cost to feed a family of four using the Canada Food Guide and the Nutritious Food Basket was unveiled, as well as statistics indicating a growing wave of people unable to survive without emergency food provisions.

Details are included in The Nugget’s Friday and can be read at nugget.ca.

Throughout the media conference, Poirier was chopping green peppers to be included in a fresh hot meal for about 130 people who stream through the Gathering Place doors every weekday. That’s an increase of about 45% in the last two years.

There’s seating for 28 and only two hours to get them in and out, so it’s hectic at the Algonquin Avenue facility.

Poirier has received an eye-full during a two-week placement as part of Canadore College’s social service worker program. She said the hands on” experience has offered real insight.

A lot of people are blind to it,” she said. I’m getting to see the full gamut of people who come here.”

Poirier said it’s interesting to see how welcoming those in need and serving them a hot meal creates a healthy environment.

That’s one of the things I’ll take away from here, the respect shown to people. Everyone is welcome,” she said, describing how the guests know each other and look out for one and another.

Interestingly, about 60% of the regular guests at the soup kitchen have mental health and addiction illnesses, and their welfare and disability incomes don’t leave much for food.

The hospital consolidation and move away from the psychiatric hospital model to more community-based treatment could further burden the food bank and soup kitchen.

It’s like the social service system is designed to require full-time charitable organizations to fill the gaps for basic necessities. Put another way, the generosity of volunteers and philanthropic souls are a major line item in the provincial budget.

My suggestion for those inclined to push for change is to get a supplemental food cost analysis done before the likely spring federal election or at least before the fall provincial election.

This time, look at the same issue in reverse.

On top of calculating the cost of healthy food to prove the need for income hikes in social service programs, why not calculate the cost of not doing it?

Get an accounting guru to tabulate how much will be spent in the community dealing with poverty-stricken individuals and families, as well as quantifying the deficit hunger inflicts on the health-care and educational systems.

There are only a few ways to bake this cake: Increase benefits so good food is within reach, create more affordable housing so there’s money left over for groceries or fund the so-called emergency food groups so they can meet the community need properly.

I can’t wait until all the local riding associations have their candidates — provincial and federal — to address the situation.

Dave Dale’s column appears Thursday and Saturday. He can be contacted at ddale@nugget.ca.

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nugget.ca – localnews/article – Failing food formula
Posted on January 22, 2011.   By Dave Dale

Social service programs and minimum wage jobs don’t pay enough to buy healthy food, say local groups.

And that costs society through chronic disease and poor health.

That’s the conclusion and concern voiced by emergency food providers and a public health dietitian who joined forces Thursday at the Gathering Place soup kitchen to stir the pot about poverty issues.

We know it’s not sufficient,” said Erin Reyce, a public health dietitian at the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit.

Reyce said it costs a family of four $728.91 each month to fill the Nutritious Food Basket based on the Canada Food Guide and shopping in local grocery stores, assuming they have the cooking skills and kitchen facilities to prepare meals at home.

The same family, Reyce said, receives $1,908 in Ontario Works allowances, child benefits and GST rebates intended to provide shelter and basic necessities.

She said the average cost of a three-bedroom apartment is $936 a month in North Bay, according to statistics provided by the District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board.

For those who pay that much for shelter, there’s only $243 left for all other living expenses — like utilities, transportation, child care, telephone and clothing, as well as toilet paper, hygiene products and cleaning supplies.

Those who don’t eat healthy, Reyce said, develop higher rates of obesity, depression and chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure and heart disease. And children who don’t eat well miss more days at school and have a difficult time concentrating in class.

It’s really an unfortunate picture,” she said.

Ellen White, of the North Bay Food Bank, said hours have been expanded to include a Wednesday evening session to serve those who are working minimum wage jobs but still need help to feed their families.

Higher electricity and heating costs, and hikes in gasoline prices, she said, have created an influx of working poor” swelling their ranks of clientele.

She said 1,000 people were fed by the food bank in the first seven days of 2011.

She admitted they can’t offer the most nutritious food and people leave with what amounts to a high-carbohydrate diet. No meat products were available for three months last year.

Jill Clark, executive director of the Gathering Place, said the daily average number of meals served has increased from 87 in 2008 to 126 in 2010 — a 45% hike in two years with no evidence that the number has peaked.”

Clark said they’ve had so many people lining up outside in the cold they’ve stopped serving soup every day to quicken the turnover for a seating area limited to 28 people with only two hours to feed everyone.

The frightening thing is,” she said, the community is not looking at (emergency food providers such as the food bank and soup kitchen) anymore as Band-Aid solutions.”

She also warned that 60% of the soup kitchen’s guests are dealing with mental illness and/or addictions, a segment of the population expected to expand after the hospitals consolidate and depend more on community-based care.

While Clark, White and Reyce talked about poverty issues and ideas that may help, including community gardens and cooking groups, Tyler Dagenais was a few feet away buttering bread for Thursday’s lunch at the Gathering Place.

Dagenais just started a new job at the soup kitchen through a federal work placement program assisting youth who haven’t graduated high school.

Before I was working here, I was coming here for lunch every day,” he said because social assistance only provided $580 and most of it went toward a rent bill of $545.

But he said he’ll still probably have to visit the food bank and it’s hard to buy good, healthy food because it has to be stored and cooked, which is hard to do with only a microwave, fryer, toaster and small apartment fridge.

ddale@nugget.ca

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