Countless studies recognize the health benefits of sitting down as a family to enjoy a home-cooked meal. Childhood psychologists and dietitians alike praise the practice for its boon to physical and mental health. While family dinner is common among many Canadian families, for more than 850,000 Canadians who rely on food banks, it's only possible thanks to the generosity of others.
In 2015, more than half of our food banks experienced an increase in food assistance requests. Alberta was especially hard hit. The drop in oil prices raised unemployment levels to 10 per cent, and three-quarters of food banks operating in the province reported an increase in the number of families that reached out to them for help.
However, the need spans the entire country -- millions of Canadians continue to struggle to make ends meet. Food banks across the country provide an essential service that is sought out by 80,000 new users every single month. We couldn't possibly meet their needs without your donations.
Although a typical donation consists of non-perishable food, cash donations are extremely valuable for food banks. Financial donations enable food banks to buy perishables like fresh milk, fruit and vegetables to round out hampers for families. A recent survey commissioned by Loblaw Companies Limited showed that only 24 per cent of Canadians realize money goes towards fresh food.
Without money, it would be nearly impossible for food banks to provide clients with a healthy dinner plate. That's because essentials like pasta, soup and beans pour in, while equally important items like fresh produce, meat and dairy items are in shorter supply. Financial donations create flexibility since they allow food banks to buy in bulk and stock up on most-needed items in cases where donations of a particular food group are scarce.
Money is also well spent by food banks on important operating costs like heating, gas for trucks and food-sharing and food recovery programs. Food banks and provincial associations have stated that a few hundred thousand dollars spent on these efforts can equate to a few million dollars' worth of food for families -- that means more hampers and more fresh meals at community food programs across the country.
Although 2014 was a disappointing year for donations nationally, financial donations were on the upswing in 2015. One of Canada's biggest food drive contributors, Loblaw, and its network of more than 1,100 grocery stores in communities across the country recently reported that their holiday food drive raised more than $1.7 million for local food banks, which could purchase as many as 1.7 million meals.
So far, the statistics are encouraging and we're extremely grateful to shoppers who participated in the program. As our biggest donation period comes to a close, we want to encourage everyone to keep food banks top of mind and consider making a financial donation to help more Canadians sit down to dinner together.
For more information on hunger in Canada or to make a donation, visit foodbankscanada.ca.
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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.