Kitchener-Waterloo

Food insecurity could be a federal election issue: Food Banks Canada

In just one month, 1.1 million Canadians turned to a food bank for help, the new Hunger Count report says. That's unacceptable, says Kirstin Beardsley of Food Banks Canada and it should spark conversations with candidates in this fall's federal election.

In just one month, 1.1 million Canadians needed a food bank, a new report says

Volunteers at the Bridgeport Café in Waterloo help distribute food to people who come out to the hot meal and to pick up supplies. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

A new report on hunger in Canada should spark a national conversation as a federal election approaches, says Kirstin Beardsley, chief network services officer for Food Banks Canada.

The report released this week found in March 2018, 1.1 million people used a food bank somewhere in the country.

"That's not acceptable and I think that's a surprise to a lot of Canadians, quite frankly, that number," Beardsley said.

For Wendi Campbell, CEO of The Food Bank of Waterloo Region, the numbers in the report aren't surprising. The numbers of people who access the food bank in Waterloo region is very similar to national numbers, she said.

"The one million number seems like a huge number, but it's the reality that we've been dealing with as food bank partners across the country for the last number of years," Campbell said.

The report focused on food bank use across the country in March 2018. Beardsley says the high number of children who needed the food bank in one month — 35 per cent of all users — is a significant issue.

"Kids are very overrepresented as food bank users across the country," she said. "It's really heartbreaking."

'We need to drive these numbers down'

Campbell says the focus locally is getting food to people who need it.

"We're so busy with the day-to-day, making sure people are fed," she said, but added they help groups like Food Banks Canada with their advocacy by sharing data and experiences.

"We are able to support these advocacy efforts in small ways," she said.

Beardsley said more needs to be done from various levels of government to address the problems that are leading to food insecurity.

"Food banks do the best to provide the food that people need today, but we need to drive these numbers down. What we need is public policy change," she said.

"We need to see governments take action so that these numbers go down and people aren't needing to turn to a food bank in the first place."

Some things that could help, Beardsley suggests, are programs like basic income, affordable childcare and financial support for singles, who she says are largely ignored in public policy.

"I think a lot of Canadians don't know how serious the issue of hunger is in Canada," she said, adding this is an issue people can bring to their local federal candidates.

"Being an election year, we would hope that a lot of Canadians talk to their candidates about the issues we've put forward so that we can come back next year and see those numbers going down."

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