Food bank numbers show where help is needed most
By Vanessa Balintec
Published Aug. 6, 2019
In Ontario, food bank usage is growing. According to Feed Ontario, in 2018, 507,977 people visited food banks across the province 3,033,970 times throughout the year, a three per cent increase over 2017. However, according to local food bank operators, food bank trends in Haliburton County tend to stay relatively the same year after year. It’s normal for numbers to fluctuate up and down by small margins – the real question is who, why, and when.
In 2018, the Cardiff Food Bank saw 413 household visits compared to 2017’s 359 household visits – about a 13 per cent total increase. However, this time last year, there was a cumulative total of 209 household visits, whereas this year’s total sits at 200.
According to Cam McKenzie, the Highlands East Ward 1 councillor who’s been involved with Cardiff Food Bank programs for close to four years, a year’s numbers can dip if clients leave the area.
“It isn’t a change of economic good times here, unfortunately,” said McKenzie.
In fact, McKenzie says certain situations particular to older age demographics prove to be a unique trend.
“We have a lot of seniors here, and a lot of them own their own homes,” he said. “Sometimes, a spouse dies and they’re on their own, and they’re trying to get by. CPP and Old Age Security, those two things don’t provide a whole bunch of disposable income.”
Joanne Barnes, manager of the Minden Community Food Centre, said seasonal jobs have the biggest impacts on food bank visits.
“In the fall and winter months, we average 225 families per month,” she said. “In the spring, when summer jobs become available, our numbers drop down to about 100 families per month. So it proves if available, people are happy to have work and not have to come here. Starting mid-August, our numbers will gradually increase, and in August it’s because kids are going back to school, and families have the need for helping to assist them for foods and lunch material. The numbers start to go up in August and continue to go up, and usually February is the peak.”
The 2018 summary released by Central Food Network, the organization made up of Cardiff and Wilberforce food banks, shows that close to half of their 352 registered individual users were from vulnerable sectors – 28 per cent were under 18, while 20 per cent were 60 and over.
“I’ve seen a little bit of everything,” said manager Ken Mott, one of the founding members of the Wilberforce Food Bank with almost 16 years of food bank experience. “We’ve gone from operating out of someone’s basement to having our own spot. Definitely an increase in people that use it.”
Often, patterns arise from the situations of the people who access food banks. People who are on social assistance or on old-age pension are more frequently food bank clients, while single-parent households along with single households, tend to access food banks more than double-parent households for reasons that food bank operators suspect are related to housing.
“Welfare for a single person is substantially less than for a couple or for a family, but your rent is the same,” said David Ogilvie, Haliburton 4Cs chair. “If you’re paying $1,000 a month as a single, or $1,000 between two people, it makes a huge difference with your total family income. As a single person, you have less money for food just because your rent takes a huge, huge amount of what they get.”
According to the 4Cs’ website, the number of families seeking food bank services has increased over the past couple of years, seeing more of the working poor finding access to food bank support.
“You start to learn that there’s often a story as to why that individual is here,” said Ogilvie. “Some of them are tough – it’s hard to hear some of the stories.”
Food banks across the county work together to supply each other with food and resources.
Typically, food banks go beyond supplying food resources and try to connect clients with other programs that may be helpful to them, such as Community Kitchen and Food for Kids, which provide food programming, and Heat Bank Haliburton County, which provides emergency firewood, hydro, transportation, and propane to those in need.
“We want to make sure that the help that we give is enough to get them going,” said Ogilvie. “If our help is not able to get them out of where they are, translation is they need other help. We don’t want to be a Band-Aid applying another Band-Aid to the situation. It’s easier to slap on Band-Aids, but it doesn’t solve the problem.”
Although the 4Cs is able to fund its food expenses through revenue from the Lily Ann Thrift Store, donations make up a big part of their inventory.
“All of this, whether is Central Food Network, Minden, or ourselves, we’re so, so, so grateful for all the initiatives. The support we get in donations is huge. We all live in an amazingly generous community, which all makes our lives at the food bank so much easier.”