Food banks are a blessing, but they’re no fix for poverty

Posted on November 22, 2021 in Social Security Debates

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Editorial
Nov. 22, 2021.   Star Editorial Board

One thing was made clear by the latest alarming report from two Toronto food banks on the state of hunger in the city:

The challenge of alleviating a rising food crisis will not be solved by simply donating more tinned goods and boxes of pasta to community kitchens.

If you find yourself hungry, food banks are a blessing.

If you aim to solve the complex problems of poverty and social inequity, food banks are like carrying a box of Band-aids to a MASH unit.

They are simply no long-term match for the overwhelming nature of the challenge.

According to the latest Who’s Hungry report by the Daily Bread Food Bank and North York Harvest Food Bank, the situation for the increasing number of people overwhelmed at the challenge of putting food on the table is critical and getting worse.

“Food banks are designed to provide emergency food relief,” it says. “And when COVID-19 hit, we readied ourselves to provide increased levels of service to meet growing community need.

“No one could have predicted the magnitude of this crisis.”

More people than ever before are relying on food banks to survive – including increasing numbers holding down jobs but earning too little to sustain their families.

For the first time, new clients outnumbered existing clients, say the food banks.

Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic deepened the problem. There are fears for what happens when pandemic assistance programs are phased out – a step that will occur even as the cost-of-living surges by levels not seen in 20 years.

“It’s a very difficult report and, unfortunately, an even more difficult outlook,” Neil Hetherington, CEO of Daily Bread in Etobicoke, told the Star’s Ben Cohen.

“We are at a worst-case scenario. An ever-increasing number of individuals who need food charity to survive.”

In last year’s report, Who’s Hungry predicted “we could see up to 1.4 million food bank visits in Toronto in the coming year.” In fact, it saw 1.45 million – far more than in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

The report succinctly lays out the roots of the problem, describing a system rigged against the very “ordinary folks” that the premier unconvincingly claims as those nearest and dearest to him.

These factors include: deepening income and wealth disparities; job losses and precarious employment; the erosion of permanent, secure employment; systemic racism and discrimination; an inadequate social safety net; and the increased cost of living.

“Until we address the systemic chronic stressors that are producing and reproducing vast inequalities in our communities, we will never be resilient to the acute shocks that occasionally arise,” the report said.

“The time to act is now. We urgently need to protect low-income households who continue to struggle with job losses, reduced employment hours and precarious housing.”

Who’s Hungry called for systemic change that would address precarious employment, improve income supports such as Employment Insurance and social assistance, invest in affordable childcare, improve digital access, and make housing more affordable.

“The COVID-19 pandemic was undoubtedly a shock,” Who’s Hungry said. “But it will not be the last emergency we face as a city. It is critical that all levels of government make tackling poverty and food insecurity a top priority.”

That sentence may be, in one variation or another, among the most common pleas ever written.

To make the request for concerted action yet again likely stands as a triumph of hope over experience.

What those words have going for them, however, is the power of humanity and the undeniable ring of truth. In a compassionate society, they would be heard and heeded.

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