Food bank use increases


Emily Mathieu

Jun 24 2008

Opal Sparks remembers when careful planning and a well-thought-out food budget was all it took to make sure families got enough to eat.

“I wasn’t brought up on steak and lobster by any means,” said Sparks, who was raised in Toronto but left the city in 1976.

When she returned in 2001, the number of people struggling to make ends meet – and still failing –was shocking. “It’s appalling how my city has changed.”

Sparks, in her 50s, is a poverty activist and has volunteered with the Daily Bread Food Bank. She is also a client. Sparks is on the Ontario Disability Support Program. She grows her own food to enjoy affordable access to healthy food but sometimes – no matter how careful she is with her budget – struggles to make ends meet.

Today the Daily Bread Food Bank will release the Who’s Hungry Report for 2008. The report details food bank use in the GTA between April 2007 and March 2008.

According to the report, the number of people who were assisted through food bank services, sometimes multiple times, across the GTA within that time period was 952,883, or a 5 per cent increase from the previous year.

In Toronto the number of people served by food banks during that period was 799,315, up from 744,232, or an increase of 7 per cent from the previous year.

In the 905 region, the number of people accessing food banks dropped 5 per cent, from 161,311 in 2007 to 153,568 in 2008. The majority of the decrease was in York Region, which can primarily be attributed to a decrease in the number of food banks participating in data collection, according to the report.

Gail Nyberg, executive director of Daily Bread said the increase in the GTA is attributed to the opening of two new food banks in high-need areas, one in Etobicoke and one in Scarborough, during that period. In Toronto a boost in services for existing clients accounted for the increase. But overall there was still about a 2 per cent increase in food bank use across the GTA, she said.

“To see that once again food bank use is increasing is disturbing to me, keeping in mind we are looking at last year,” she said.

The increased cost of housing continues to drive food bank use, said Nyberg. Food bank clients use an average of 77 per cent of their income on rent, up from 72 per cent in 2003. Individuals paying more than 50 per cent of their income on rent are considered at danger of becoming homeless, said Nyberg.

“We know the economy is taking a downturn and so I find it frightening to think what it could look like next year.”

Nyberg said that the average wage of food bank users considered the working poor – or homes where one individual is working – was about $10.34/hr.

“So most are working above what we are advocating as minimum wage,” and still can’t make ends meet.

Credit: Toronto Star

Dawnmarie Harriott