05/17/2012 12:39 EDT | Updated 07/17/2012 05:12 EDT

True North Strong and Hungry


We are lucky to live in Canada, a prosperous nation. We have weathered the recent economic crisis better than many other high-income countries. Despite this, the quality of work, level of wages and a shrinking social safety net in Canada still leave many at the door of their local food bank for support. In fact, close to 900,000 individuals turn to food banks for assistance each month across the country -- a number equivalent to the entire population of New Brunswick. Some other surprising statistics about those assisted by food banks:

One in three are children and youth -- kids are waking up and going to school hungry

Close to seven per cent are seniors

Almost one in five households helped by food banks have income from current or recent employment.

Sadly, Canadians not being able to afford food exists today. This is unacceptable. We need to find solutions.

May 7-11 marked the first Hunger Awareness Week in Canada, expanded from Hunger Awareness Day, which launched in 2006. The goal was to raise awareness of the solvable issue of hunger in Canada, at a time of year when the issue is not top of mind.

I am pleased that we had great traction this year during Hunger Awareness Week. We saw creative grassroots activity from nearly 150 food banks across the country, including events like the media and the local deputy fire chief fasting in St. Catharine's. We also put a challenge out to our Parliamentarians in Ottawa to help raise awareness, and had more than 150 MPs and their staff fast for one day.

The dire need for food banks is best understood through real life stories like that of Shelley and Mark, a mother and son. It is the people behind the statistics that motivates me to do what I can to help nearly 900,000 people today and the millions in the future who rely on our organization to reduce the need for food banks.

One day, Shelley's son Mark arrived home from school and like many kids, he went straight to the fridge looking for a snack before dinner, calling out to his mom, "Hi I'm home. I'm starving."

Shelley walked to the kitchen holding back tears. She had been worried for days that they would run out of food before her next pay cheque that Friday. It was Tuesday -- she was hoping they would make it. Shelly knew there was barely enough food for dinner that night and lunch tomorrow. Shelly said to her son, "Mark we are short on groceries. Could you hold off until supper?" Mark replied, "can I run out and pick up a few things at the store?"

Shelley's heart sank even further. Not only did they not have enough food, they did not have money to buy more food. How could she tell her son the situation that they were in?

Shelley's pay cheque from her two jobs was not enough this month and they were running a little short. She decided to let Mark know, "we have given food to the food bank in the past. I will call them in the morning on my break and will plan to go pick up some food after work."

The next day, for the first time ever, Shelley walked through the doors of a food bank for help. Although uncomfortable, ashamed and frustrated for having to ask for support, Shelley left the food bank with an emergency food hamper, containing three days worth of food.

Unfortunately, the story of Shelley and Mark is not uncommon.

I work at Food Banks Canada because I know every day that I am helping families like Shelley and Mark.

Food Banks Canada is the national organization supporting food banks across the country. Local food banks provide temporary, emergency food support to people who are unable to provide enough food for themselves and their families. A typical "food hamper" shared with an individual or family at a food bank will provide three to five days worth of food. Food banks also offer a variety of programs, services, and referrals, including job training, community kitchens and help finding affordable housing.

It is important to note that food banks are not the long-term solution to hunger in Canada. We need policy change through government action focused on providing adequate incomes for Canadians and addressing other root causes of hunger. As we work toward governments identifying solutions, we are pleased to be working with businesses, individuals and food banks to help ensure people have quality food to eat today.

There are many things you can do to support Canadians who are hungry:

Support your local food bank through donating food, funds or volunteering your time

Make a financial donation directly to Food Banks Canada and support our programs

Host a fundraising event or food drive in your community or place of work

Tell your municipal, provincial and federal representatives that hunger is unacceptable to you

Together we can reduce hunger in Canada.