'It's disheartening,' more kids visiting Hamilton food banks: report

The number of times children access food banks in Hamilton rose by 10 per cent, according to Hamilton Food Share's recent report. It says the lack of affordable housing is contributing to this increase.

In March 2019, children made 9,125 visits to food banks

Hamilton Food Share says that 5,000 different children visit food banks a month. And not only is that number growing — they're visiting more often.   (CBC)

A new report by the Hamilton Food Share shows that more children are in need and visiting food banks across the city. 

Their annual hunger report gives a "snapshot" of those accessing Hamilton food banks and hot meal programs. While the number of people accessing food banks this past year rose by five per cent, the number of children lining up increased by six per cent.

This means that 5,000 different children are visiting food banks a month. And not only is the number of children that need food growing — they're visiting more often. 

In March 2019, children made a total of 9,125 visits to food banks, which is a 10 per cent increase from the previous year. On a typical day, says the food share, children are using food banks 304 times. 

The Director of Hamilton Food Share, Joanne Santucci, said that she was crushed by the increase. 

"Most parents want better things for their children," she said. "They worry about all kinds of things...and when you have to worry about the basics of things, even food...it's very disheartening." 

"This should bring every policy maker to the table with a focused political will for change."

Affordable housing

In a media release, the food share says that one of the biggest reasons why food bank use is increasing is the lack of affordable housing. The report says that households that access food banks are using more than half of their income, on average, on housing. This puts households at more risk for homelessness.

"The disparaging chasm between what it costs to, basically, feed yourself and your family and keep the roof over your head, is exponential," Santucci said, and added that while Hamilton is seeing economic growth, people are experiencing extreme poverty.

Around 400 people accessing the food share's programming are paying 100 per cent or more of their total income for rent and utilities. 

Santucci said that the striking numbers have prompted people to pitch in. An anonymous donor gave $26,100 to the food share for the purchase of 86,000 cans of baby formula, which will go out with their emergency food network to parents Tuesday afternoon. And while the gesture is incredible, Santucci says that there's more work left to do. 

"It's going to have an unbelievable impact — a fantastic impact — but we still know that when that formula's gone, when that surge of support's gone, we still have people living so far below the poverty line that homelessness now is the next risk they're facing," Santucci said. 

With the arriving winter weather, the food share says pressures for balancing funds will increase, with the cold and snow adding expenses like heating bills and winter boots and coats. 

The food share says that children make up 40 per cent of the people who go hungry in Hamilton, with the downtown core having the second highest per capita rate of food bank usage in Ontario. 


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