Food bank use across Canada remained more than 25 per cent above pre-recession levels in March, the group representing food banks said Tuesday.

Food Banks Canada said an annual survey of its members showed a slight decrease in the number of food recipients from the same month a year earlier — two per cent to 851,014 — but little change over all.

The steady numbers show the effects of recession are still being felt across Canada, and the organization says that means economic recovery isn't working for everyone.

"While we're out of the recession, the economic recovery has left a whole bunch of Canadians behind — and they're not getting caught back up yet," Katharine Schmidt, executive director of Food Banks Canada, told CBC News.

Of the 349,842 households that turned to food banks for help in March 2011, almost half were families with children, and those were split almost evenly between two-parent and single-parent families.

Among households without children, more than three-quarters of food bank recipients were single people, with the remaining 23 per cent being couples without children.

About the recipients

  • 38% were under 18.
  • 47% female.
  • 4.4% were 65, rising to 5.7% in rural areas.
  • 10% self-identified as First Nations, Métis, or Inuit.
  • 11% were immigrants or refugees, increasing to 18.5% in large cities.
  • 4% were post-secondary students.

The household composition of those helped in rural areas was fairly consistent with overall national figures, with a slightly higher percentage of couples without children in rural Canada.

Food Banks Canada is the national charitable organization that represents 1,943 community food banks across the country. It says 1,723 food banks participated in its annual HungerCount survey.

The survey counts the number of individuals who get groceries from food banks and affiliated agencies during March.

Food Banks Canada says it has been gathering data on the need for "charitable food assistance" since 1997.

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"This wealth of information allows us to see that food bank use increases and decreases with the health of the economy," the report says.

"For example, the number of people helped by food banks decreased steadily during the economic boom of the mid-2000s, only to shoot up during the recession, and stay elevated in the current year."

 Through good times and bad, however, the total number of Canadians being helped by food banks has not fallen below 700,000, the report says.

Food Banks Canada's recommendations to improve the situation include:

  • Investing in more affordable housing to reduce the need for food assistance.
  • Improving social assistance, especially addressing the forced liquidation of assets.
  • Protecting single senior citizens, who are most vulnerable among the elderly.