OTTAWA — More Canadians are relying on food banks to feed themselves, a report released Tuesday suggests.
The report by Food Banks Canada says last March some 863,492 people turned to a food bank, a 1.3 per cent increase over March 2015 and a 28 per cent rise over 2008.
"More than 300,000 of those helped were children,'' said Shawn Pegg, the organization's director of policy and research. "That's enough kids to fill 6,000 school buses.''
The report found that food banks in eight of 10 provinces saw increased traffic with the biggest jumps in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and the three territories.
"Social assistance traps Canadians in poverty rather than helping them to escape it."
Only Manitoba and Ontario didn't see increased usage compared to last year.
Nova Scotia food banks saw a 20.9 per cent increase in users from 2015, while Alberta and Saskatchewan both saw 17 per cent increases.
"The economic shocks we've seen in western Canada have added to the long-term decline in well-paying jobs across the country, jobs that are being replaced by low-paying, precarious work,'' Pegg said.
Food Banks Canada says the higher usage is also driven by the lack of government support for people who face uncertain prospects.
"Governments are failing to provide adequate supports to people who have fallen on hard times,'' Pegg said. "It shows we need to break from the past in our approach to solving the problems of poverty, food and security and hunger.''
Recommended that welfare benefits be increased
The report recommends the Liberal government, among other things, fast-track a poverty-reduction strategy and revamp the welfare system.
"Social assistance traps Canadians in poverty rather than helping them to escape it,'' the report says.
"It is based in a culture of suspicion and distrust rather than one of support and mutual aid.''
The report recommends that the bar be lowered in terms of the value of liquid assets a household is allowed to have while getting welfare, and that benefits not be reduced if welfare recipients are able to earn extra cash through work.
For the longer term, it calls for creation of a basic income for Canadians that would be administered through the tax system, allowing governments to "dismantle existing provincial/territorial social assistance bureaucracies.''
It also recommends the government strengthen an existing program to ensure northerners in isolated communities have access to nutritious food.
The report found that food banks in eight of 10 provinces saw increased traffic. (Photo: Getty Images)
Pegg's organization represents 10 provincial associations and more than 500 affiliated food banks.
The report is based on reports from food banks about the number of people who received groceries during March. Food Banks Canada has picked March as the period for its study because it is a routine month without any predictable high or low use patterns.
However, Pegg said, the survey was conducted before the wildfires that ravaged northern Alberta.
"We are almost certain that food bank use is even higher than it was during the study period.''
Also On HuffPost:
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.