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18 Per Cent Jump In Use Of Food Banks In 2009

Highlights of HungerCount for Manitoba

47,925 individuals were assisted by a food bank in March 2009

+18 per cent change since March 2008

49 per cent are children

15.5 per cent report employment income

3 per cent receive Employment Insurance

54.5 per cent receive social assistance

10 per cent receive disability-related income supports

66 per cent of food banks in Manitoba saw an increase in 2009

Manitoba saw an 18 per cent jump in food bank usage in 2009, adding another 8,000 people to the queues lined up at local food bank doors looking for help.

That’s the same percentage increase seen nationally and the largest year-over-year increase since 1997, reports Food Banks Canada in its new 2009 HungerCount report.

Canada’s food banks have felt the additional pressure from the recession, said Katharine Schmidt, executive director of Food Banks Canada, which coordinates the annual national study.

Alberta was hardest hit this year, with food bank usage shooting up by 61 per cent, the largest jump anywhere in Canada. The spike is attributed to that province’s unemployment resulting from cancellation or postponement of major oil and gas projects. More than 59,000 Albertans lost their full-time jobs between September 2008 and 2009.

Nova Scotia saw a 20 per cent jump in food bank use while Ontario also saw a large hike (19 per cent).

Food Banks Canada annually releases a count of individuals showing up at a food bank during the month of March for a year-over-year comparison. Of the nearly 800,000 Canadians looking for help from a food bank this past spring, 9.1 per cent were first-timers, HungerCount reports.

The profile of those assisted across the country shows nearly half of assisted households are families with children, 19 per cent were living on income from current or recent employment and 6.3 per cent of assisted households report some type of pension as their primary source of income.

David Northcott, executive coordinator of Winnipeg Harvest said food bank volunteers saw many new faces in the last 12 months, many of whom report having lost a job and depleted EI benefits. However, the majority of food bank users in Manitoba (66 per cent) in 2009 were recipients of social assistance.

“It’s not just a bad economy, we’ve been poor because of inadequacy of benefits, Northcott said. “Welfare rates have not kept pace across the country and Manitoba is not different.”

Manitoba’s increase in food bank use brings the total number relying on food banks to nearly 48,000 annually.

What is particularly disturbing is to see continued reliance on food banks by so many children in this province. Nearly half (49 per cent) of all those fed through a Manitoba food bank are under the age of 18, Northcott noted.

“That’s been such a thorn for Manitoba,” Northcott said. “To still be No. 1 in the number of children using food banks…. that is distressing. We just can’t wrestle the child poverty issue down.”

Winnipeg registered dietitians like Lisa Beggs see the effects reliance on food banks has on people’s diet and health.

Doctors and nurse practitioners at Klinic Community Health Centre refer clients to Beggs for nutrition counselling. Her clients’ tend to lean heavily on high-starch foods such as pasta, quick-cooking rice and potatoes, and snacks foods, Beggs said, adding that they also get very few vegetables or fruits in their daily diet.

They tend to be persons who have to do with less money for food in order to cover increases to their fixed costs such as increases to rent, utilities, clothing, she said. As residents of rooming houses, these individuals may also be without basic kitchen facilities, perhaps possessing only a very small fridge and therefore don’t have the capacity to store any quantity of food in their homes.

They’re more susceptible to illnesses such as colds and flu because their immunity is down from poor nutrition and they’re also at higher risk of developing any of the chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and heart disease, Beggs said.

Northcott said Winnipeg Harvest each year invites medical students from the University of Manitoba to visit their distribution centre and learn about what Winnipeg Harvest does in order to help these future doctor better understand the socio-economic context in which their patients’ chronic diseases are developing.

“The number one determinant of health is socio-economic status,” said Northcott.

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About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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