Food bank usage rising, according to United Way study


By Barb McKay


Hunger is on the rise in Kincardine, according to a recent study by the United Way of Bruce and Grey.


The United Way hosted a food bank summit last Thursday at the Grey Bruce Health Unit with regional agencies, including the Salvation Army, and food banks to address the growing issue of hunger and poverty in the region. According to a study compiled by the United Way, the 2013 Hunger Report, food bank visits were up by 47 per cent overall across the coverage area from 2011 to 2013, from 9,215 to 13,518. Not only that, the number of food banks in the area grew from 14 to 20.


Kincardine experienced a 52 per cent increase in client visits over the two year period, to 1,169 from 770. Some communities saw even more significant jumps in numbers. Meaford experienced a 176 per cent increase and Lions Head had 222 per cent more client visits in 2013 than in 2011. The number of client visits for Lions Head are lower, however – 143 in 2013, compared to 45 in 2011.


Francesca Dobbyn, who authored the report with Jennifer Gallagher, said wages aren’t keeping up with the cost of living. She said questions need to be asked about why many of the jobs offered today are minimum wage and part time.


“If you have a full-time job at $11 per hour, the minimum wage, you are living below the poverty line, especially if you have children,” Dobbyn said.


Increases to hydro, propane, natural gas, food and gasoline create challenges for individuals who are already struggling to pay their rent.


“You have to pay your rent and utilities, so the only flexibility you have is in your food budget,” Dobbyn said. “People cut back and cut back until they have to go to the food bank.”


During the food summit, participants discussed the Grey Bruce Food Charter, developed by the Food Security Action Group of the Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force. The aim of the charter is to work with community to create sustainable local food systems. Dobbyn said there was a conversation about how to educate the public about donating to food banks.


“We have to get away from the no name macaroni and cheese,” she said.


If people want to donate, she added, they should be aware that they have the option to donate gift cards to grocery stores, as well, so that recipients can pick up fresh items, such as produce, milk, eggs and yogurt, as they need it.


Food banks are also encourage to develop meal kits, such as chili kits and stew kits to allow families to make easy, one-pot meals. Recipes are handed out with the kits.


“Some food banks have a hard time keeping beans on the shelves because they are bundling them with other items,” Dobbyn said. “Chilis and stews are nutritious and tasty and you can really stretch them.”


While the United Way would like to see a time when food banks are no longer needed, Dobbyn said, it takes more than the work of individuals giving donations. Communities need to work together to pressure politicians to deal with wages and the rising cost of energy and fuel.


“A community can do amazing things if it comes together to address an issue,” she said.