OTTAWA — Food Banks Canada is using its annual report on the number of people using food banks in the country to push anew for the federal and provincial governments to do away with the social assistance programs.
The group wants to see the existing bureaucracies that oversee social benefits, such as disability payments, instead funnel all the savings into tax measures that would put more money into the hands of low-income earners.
The group's executive director says that this would create a basic, minimum income for those living near or below the poverty line, and likely save money for governments.
Katharine Schmidt said the move could also reduce the number of people using food banks, which this year crept up by about one per cent to more than 852,000 from the almost 842,000 recorded last year.
"... if we were to dismantle the existing bureaucracies and put in place a basic income that was administered through the tax system we really believe that it would reduce the overall cost to governments."
"It certainly wouldn't be an easy thing to do, but if we were to dismantle the existing bureaucracies and put in place a basic income that was administered through the tax system we really believe that it would reduce the overall cost to governments," she said.
"At the end of the day, we would be a better off Canada than we are today."
Food Banks Canada has seen two other regular requests in its annual HungerCount report become part of the Liberal government's campaign platform: to bring down the cost of food in the territories, and money to build more affordable housing across the country.
The Liberals promised $40 million over four years to Nutrition North to help lower food prices in the North, and an affordable housing plan that includes a promise to eliminate the GST on all new rental builds in the country while giving up to $125 million a year to landlords renovating aging rental units.
The report found that this past March, 852,137 people visited a food bank, up just over one per cent from the 841,191 recorded in 2014, but still below the 10-year high of 872,379 recorded in 2013.
The report this year found that almost 36 per cent of users, or about 305,000, were children. That's equivalent to about 4,260 yellow school buses filled to their 72-seat capacity.
Schmidt said food banks also have seen more seniors on pensions and people in receipt of disability benefits.
The biggest provincial increase was noticed in Alberta as 67,443 people went to a food bank in March, a 23.4 per cent increase from the 49,766 recorded in the same month one year ago.
Food bank use in Saskatchewan stayed flat since last year, while Ontario, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador saw year-over-year declines.
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The next time you go grocery shopping, check to see if the store is collecting any items for local food banks, says Kathy Murphy, corporate affairs director at Kraft Canada. "It takes five minutes to buy something, so why not donate it? If you're shopping for peanut butter, buy two and donate the other," she says.
During the year (especially during the holiday season), food banks need volunteers to sort, manage and give out food, Murphy says. If you have five hours to spare, gather a group of friends or co-workers and head to your local food bank. "It's the time of year when food banks receive large donations and they need help to sort it out," she says.
If you have a week off during the holidays, Murphy suggests organizing a food drive at your holiday party or even one at the office. Giving people a week gives them enough time to mobilize and collect donations, she adds.
When you have five weeks, think long-term: Every week when you go grocery shopping, try to save one item to donate. "Have the goal to fill a hamper and donate this to a food bank," Murphy says.
One of the biggest issues for Canadian food banks is the ability to meet the growing demands and needs of serving people in the long run, Murphy says. If you have five months and want to volunteer with a food bank, Murphy recommends talking to them about meeting their capacity needs and working towards one long-term goal. For example, you could organize a fundraiser or help the organization look for sponsors or partnerships.