Why, for many Canadian families, summer is a time for hunger

Pam Jolliffe, interim Executive Director of Food Banks Canada, explains why she says many so many families in Canada struggle to feed themselves during the summer and why food banks are struggling to keep up with demand.

The Executive Director of Food Banks Canada explains why food banks need more summer time donations

Pam Jolliffe, Interim Executive Director of Food Banks Canada, explains why there is a desperate need across Canada for food donations in the summer. 5:14

In Ontario, summer is a great time for growing and eating healthy local food. But it's hard to enjoy your vacation when you don't have enough to eat.

Summer hunger affects thousands of Canadian children. In Hamilton, we know that there's a  twenty-five-percent increase in summer months in the number of people who access food banks.

Pam Jolliffe is Interim Executive Director of Food Banks Canada. She spoke with the CBC's Conrad Collaco about why summer months can be a challenging time for low income families.

You can listen to the full interview at the top of this page or read an edited and abridged version below.

Pam Jolliffe, Interim Executive Director of Food Banks Canada

Q: Many of our listeners may not realize that the summer holidays can mean many kids go hungry. Why is this happening?

It's primarily because many families on low-income rely on breakfast programs, and sometimes lunch programs in the school system, to make sure their kids get that nutritious, healthy start to the day. And so when the school year ends and the schools close, there isn't an alternate for families. And those parents that are struggling on low income find it harder then to make ends meet — to be able to provide all those meals for their children.

Also, summer's the time when kids are at home, they're around the house. They want to hang out with their friends. And so there's more demand on families and on their budgets over the summer months.

Q: So if there is more demand, are we also seeing less supply? Are people less likely to donate to food banks during the summer?

Yes, that's so true. I think most of us think about donating during colder months. Food drives in Thanksgiving and the winter time are always very successful. So we don't think about it so much in the summer, and food banks really do struggle to have enough healthy, nutritious fresh food to be able to give out to families.

Q: In Hamilton we have seen food banks calling for more help in the summer, like St. Mathew's House and Hamilton Food Share. What are you seeing across the country about what food banks are doing to address this need?

All the food banks are aware of it, and many are trying to raise awareness in their local communities about the summer need. Food Banks Canada with the help of some corporate donors has been able to offer a program called After the Bell. We provide nutritious mini meal packs to food banks. And right now we're just able to offer that in parts of Southern Ontario and Saskatchewan, and we're hoping to be able to expand that.

Q: For someone who's considering making a donation a food bank in the summer,  what would you suggest they donate?

Well, anything healthy, fresh and nutritious would be a or most in need. But I think also people can consider donating cash because then the food banks can take advantage of that and buy supplies and food they can give to the families. In many places, donating one dollar translates to being able to buy about five dollars' worth of food.

Q: It seems such a strange thing, I think, as many Ontarians enjoy in the summer this wonderful, local, delicious fresh food — grown here — but at the same time so many families are unable to access that food, or access food at food banks as well. Should we be doing more to make sure that local produce is available to people who need food banks?

Oh, absolutely. The more that we can do that — and work with the local food banks to get access to that fresh produce — the better it will be for everyone. In fact they have, in a few provinces, and Ontario is one, created a fresh food or a farm food cash credit that makes more of an incentive for farmers to donate the food.

Q: How are children affected when the breakfast program they attend during school months isn't replaced by a healthy breakfast during the summer?

So we know that when children don't have breakfast—and we know that about one in three families struggle to provide breakfast for their kids—that it has an effect on their development. The children find it more difficult to learn, find it more difficult to focus and concentrate, they may have a few behaviour problems. And another thing I think gets looked over is that it also makes it more difficult to get along with their peers and to socialize well. So if you've got those things happening with not enough food, then it's going to have a bad effect on the kids when they're spending time in the summer.

Pam Jolliffe is the interim executive director of Food Banks Canada.