Island Food Bank part of trend that shows increase in use by working people

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MINDEMOYA – The executive director of Manitoulin Family Resources (MFR) says the provincial trend, which indicates more people who are working full or part-time jobs are in need of food bank services, is prevalent locally as well. 

“It’s something we’ve noticed in the last few years,” said Marnie Hall of MFR, whose organization operates the Manitoulin Food Bank. 

The Feed Ontario annual Hunger Report released earlier this week includes new data on food bank use and poverty in Ontario. “More and more we are finding people who are working still need food and the food bank services,” Ms. Hall said. 

The Feed Ontario report notes that more than 70 percent of people who have accessed a food bank in Ontario in the past year get their income from social assistance or government benefits such as employment insurance. However, the report also looked at food bank use between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 2019. It reports 510,438 people used a food bank, an increase of 8,846 more people, and there were more than three million visits. This is a 1.8 percent increase from the previous year. And of the people who required help, one third were children.

The report also notes that food banks have seen more people who are employed seeking help. Over the past three years, those with employment income who access food banks has increased by 27 percent.

Ms. Hall pointed out that MFR gets requests for support through referrals, something she says connects those in need to other service providers as well as supporting the person who needs help.

As for any increase in use of the food bank, “basically our numbers seem to remain the same. For the last few years, we have averaged 300 people a month who use our service. But as we are heading into winter with the cost of food to increase, costs for snow removal, heating and housing this need may increase,” said Ms. Hall. “The need and number of people using our services certainly doesn’t decrease; and we have been lucky so far that there hasn’t been a huge increase.”

She pointed out the elderly and those with children, and those families, even those who are employed but are not making enough to meet their needs end up having to make very tough choices in regards to where they spend their money and the need for food banks becomes even more prevalent.

The executive director of Feed Ontario, Carolyn Stewart called the number of people visiting food banks who receive employment income ‘unprecedented.’ “It should be a concerning to everyone that we are seeing an increase in the number of employed individuals accessing our services,” she said in a statement. “Sometimes people have a very false impression or understanding of who it is that’s accessing our services…people come from all walks of life when it comes to accessing a food bank.”
These numbers, Feed Ontario says, show that while people are working they can’ afford all of their expenses, including food. In its report, Feed Ontario says that almost half of all minimum wage workers, who account for 15 percent of Ontario’s work force, are above the age of 25, with one-third of them holding a post-secondary degree and a half working full-time. Part-time work has also increased. 

The report notes the number of temporary positions, such as “casual, seasonal and contract roles” has increased by 31 percent since 1998.

These positions, Feed Ontario states, have lower compensation and make it difficult for individuals to build savings for a home or support a family.

Feed Ontario also noted that since people are using more of their income on pricey housing, little is left for all other necessities, like food and clothing.

More than 87 percent of those accessing hunger relief programs are living in rentals or social housing, which takes up 70 percent of their income. 

The two biggest groups of those using the food banks are single-person households and children who comprise around 33 percent of those using programs, the report continues. 

Over 70 percent of those accessing food banks say that social assistance or government benefits like employment insurance is their primary source of income. However, the income received from various programs isn’t matching up to what’s needed for basic necessities, explains the report. The market basket measure, which reflects the number of people whose income can’t afford the cost of necessities like housing and food, shows that 1,435,140 people in Ontario are living below the poverty line, including 213,624 children.

Feed Ontario says that this means one in every 10 Ontarians has insufficient income to afford a basic standard of living.

And it was pointed out that the social assistance programs in Ontario are not supporting individuals enough to help them move out of poverty. Ontario Works provides recipients with $733 a month, while the average single-person household would need $1,641 per month for basic necessities.

The Feed Ontario report notes that income provided by Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program is also not keeping up with inflation, which means the gap between social assistance and what people need for a basic standard of living is growing. 

The report calls on the government to close this gap, which can range between 23 to 60 percent below the income that is needed. Feed Ontario is also asking the government to maintain the current definition of disability under the Ontario Disability Support Program. 

And Feed Ontario says all levels of government need to work together to find ways to end poverty and hunger in the province. “There has never been a greater need for collective action than there is today,” the report states. 

The MFR Manitoulin Food Bank is currently preparing for its annual Christmas Food Basket campaign. “Denise (Leblanc) and I are preparing for 900 Christmas food baskets, we aren’t there yet but we are getting more referrals,” said Ms. Hall. “We don’t know if we will hit 900, but we will be prepared if and when it does,” she added, noting the tremendous support the food bank receives from the Island community.