New Brunswick food bank demand rises 4.1%

Food banks helped 19,769 New Brunswickers in one month this year – more than a third of them children, a national report says.

More than 6,400 New Brunswick children need food banks, national report finds

A new food bank called the Peter McKee Community Food Centre opened in Moncton this year. (CBC)

Food banks helped 19,769 New Brunswickers in one month this year – more than a third of them children, a national report says.

HungerCount2016, released Tuesday by Food Banks Canada, reports that 32.5 per cent of food bank users in New Brunswick, or about 6,425 people, were under the age of 18.

The number of young users is up slightly from the year before, although the proportion of users who are children, at 32.5 per cent, is about the same.

Shawn Pegg, director of policy and research at Food Banks Canada, said the number of children using food banks is out of proportion to their numbers in the population.

"We know that children are consistently over represented at food banks," Pegg said. "They make up 20 per cent of the population, yet they account for 36 per cent of people [nationally] assisted by food banks."

HungerCount2016 compares the use of food banks in March this year with the same month in previous years.

A last resort

The report suggests the numbers may not be a true reflection of hunger in the country.

"It is well-documented that people prefer not to access food banks – they exhaust other avenues of support before taking that step," Food Banks Canada said in the report.

"People struggling to make ends meet move into less expensive (and lower quality) housing, sell their belongings, rack up credit card and payday loan debt, skip bills, eat fewer and cheaper foods, and ask friends and family to help them out before they consider the food bank."

While the numbers may not show everything, they do show the need has consistently gone up, and especially fast since 2008.

"Each and every month food banks are helping 4,000 more people in New Brunswick than they were before the recession," Pegg said.

This is causing problems at the food bank level as well.

"Almost a third of food banks actually ran out of food at some point in the past year, which I think gives a good sense of the types of critical shortages the system faces," said Pegg.

Fifty-three per cent of New Brunswick food banks taking part in the survey reported more users this March than last.

Higher than national increase

According to the group "Food Banks Canada", the number of people in Canada using food banks is rising. 11:00
In New Brunswick, the number of users increased 4.1 per cent over March last year, compared with an increase of 1.3 per cent for Canada as a whole. New Brunswick fared better, however, than neighbouring Nova Scotia. In that province, the number of people forced to rely on food banks in March increased more than 20 per cent.

Across Canada, 863,492 people a month have received food from their local food banks this year, and about 36 per cent were under the age of 18, the report says.

At 34 food banks in New Brunswick, about 58 per cent of users were on social assistance, and almost 11 per cent had jobs. 

There are indications the picture has changed in New Brunswick since March. Last month, a Saint John food bank reported a soaring increase in demand for food, which it attributed partly to the return of families who lost work in Western Canada. The North End Food Bank said it was afraid it would be forced to close because of a 42 per cent increase in clients.

No typical food bank user

Food Banks Canada said in its hunger report that any one of a variety of crises can send people to a food bank, including loss of a job, poorly paid employment, a disability, unaffordable housing or inadequate supports from government.

Pegg said there is no average food bank user, and many variables are in play.

"For some it's a short-term help, for others they need help over the long term," he said.

The group called for a national poverty reduction strategy by October 2017, but Pegg is concerned about how long this process may take.

"We know this is something the new government is working on," he said. "We have concerns that it's going to take years to be implemented, and the 860,000 people who are accessing food banks this month can't wait years for change to come."

With files from Information Morning Fredericton