There is certainly enough bad news to go around these days. In Western Canada, companies in the oil patch have laid off 35,000 workers since the price of oil plunged by half.
In Central Canada, the manufacturing sector has not lived up to expectations set by the fall in the value of the loonie.
In the east, unemployment continues to hover well above the Canadian average.
In the north, residents still face food prices that are three times higher than what can be found in southern grocery stores.
Today we have the unfortunate duty of reporting more bad news: food bank use has increased for the second consecutive year, and is now 26 per cent higher than it was in 2008, before the global financial crisis. Food banks are currently providing food to more than 850,000 people each and every month.
Food banks have been helping more than 700,000 people each month for the past 15 years. These are children, families, single people and working households who need help just to have enough food to eat -- and each month, 80,000 are asking for help for the very first time.
The sheer scope of food bank use in Canada is a shocking symptom of a multi-faceted problem we have been observing for far too long. First, millions of Canadians are stuck in a growing glut of low-paying jobs that don't pay the bills. On one hand are people who have advanced skills but are unable to put them to use; on the other are people who need to upgrade their skills but face multiple barriers to doing so.
Second, the support system for Canadians unable to work is a shadow of what is actually needed to help people get back on their feet. There are 800,000 unemployed Canadians who don't qualify for Employment Insurance; social assistance is a broken system; and millions of dollars in funding have been removed from training programs that target adults who face the highest barriers to employment.
This is a lot of bad news -- it's enough to make anyone stop reading.
Thankfully, there is some good news to be found in different parts of the country. Manitoba recently unveiled a subsidy to address the high cost of food in the north. British Columbia has announced several changes that will benefit people with disabilities in the province. The Nunavut Food Security Coalition is setting an example of what partnerships can accomplish in the north.
And, of course, the new federal government has made commitments that mirror many of the recommendations Food Banks Canada and others have made over the past few years. There is a promise to reinvest $200 million into training programs for adults who don't qualify for Employment Insurance; a promise to make affordable housing a primary focus of new infrastructure spending; and a promise to give our most vulnerable seniors a much-needed increase in their monthly pension benefits.
These and other promises give us tentative hope that the recommendations Food Banks Canada has made over the past few years are being heard and taken seriously, and that we can start to chip away at Canada's unfortunate global reputation as a leader in the use of food banks to address food insecurity.
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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.
Follow Shawn Pegg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/shawnpegg