The holiday season has officially arrived. The snow is falling, the malls are packed, and children are writing letters to Santa, hoping for that special toy on Christmas day. It's a magical time of year for many, but can also be a very stressful time of year, particularly for the 375,000 individuals who rely on Ontario's food banks each month. The added cost of increased heating bills or needed winter clothing can stretch already thin wallets.
This month, the Ontario Association of Food Banks released their annual Hunger Report, highlighting the prevalence of food bank use and the need for emergency food services in this province. This past March, 375,789 Ontarians accessed a food bank, with 16,294 households visiting a food bank for the first time in their lives.
It may be surprising to hear, but the largest group of food bank users in the province are children under 18 years of age. In March of this year, 131,734 children accessed a food bank in Ontario. It is also important to note that this province's food banks are serving more and more young adults, as post-secondary students and recent graduates are an ever-increasing faction of food bank users. Tuition continues to climb and so too does the mountain of student debts; OSAP loans, lines of credit, and reduction in high-quality full time jobs, especially for entry level workers, unfortunately means an increasing number of young people are turning to food banks for assistance.
Canada is a beautiful country, with strong roots in social justice and equality, yet so many of our friends and neighbours are living paycheque to paycheque, struggling to pay rent and put food on the table. While union jobs evaporate, and factories disappear from the once-booming Ontario economy, we are likely to continue to see a rise in food bank use, and increased dependency on social services, through 2014.
As you finish up your holiday shopping, please remember that there are so many Canadians going without this festive season. Contact your local food bank and see what items are most needed for holiday hampers, and drop off some groceries that will nourish a local family on Christmas day. Write to your city councillor, MPP, and MP and urge them to put poverty on the agenda this New Year. Let us all stand up for one another, and bring peace and goodwill upon our neighbours this holiday season.
For more information on your local food bank, or to donate to the Ontario Association of Food Banks, please visit www.oafb.caBy Erin Fotheringham, Membership and Operations Coordinator at the Ontario Association of Food Banks
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