Food bank usage rises

Hunger Count 2009 shows 12% increase in city

Jenn Sharp
The StarPhoenix
Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The number of people using Saskatoon’s food bank increased during the last year, but it was the smallest hike among food banks nationwide.

The annual Hunger Count for 2009 was released Tuesday at the Saskatoon Food Bank. The report details hunger and the use of food banks in Canada and also makes recommendations for the future.

The Hunger Count, which compares food bank usage during the month of March each year, revealed 18,875 people used food banks in Saskatchewan, a rise of six per cent over last year. In Saskatoon, usage rose by 12 per cent.

Paul Merriman, CEO of the Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre, says the report “gives us more detailed information on our clients coming into the food bank, which gets rolled up into a provincial perspective and then into a national perspective.”

Compared to other provinces, such as Alberta, where usage rose 61 per cent in the last year, Saskatchewan has fared well. The only province in which usage rates were lower than rates in 2008 was Prince Edward Island.

However, one area of concern is that Saskatchewan ranked second nationwide in the number of children using a food bank.

Merriman said he has seen a rise in new clients during the past year.

“(More) immigrants and refugees are using the food bank, and we’ve seen a slight increase in our single moms, as well as within our aboriginal community. The perspective from the city is not good — it’s up 12 per cent — but compared to what’s happening on the national side of things, we’re actually weathering the storm pretty well from the recession.”

Nationally, recent immigrants and aboriginals also make up a significant percentage of individuals assisted by food banks. Nationwide, 12 per cent of those assisted were aboriginal, while in Saskatoon, 62.5 per cent were aboriginal.

Merriman said about 8,000 people use the Saskatoon Food Bank once a month and 12,000 twice a month.

“The social safety net is not what it could be,” said Merriman. “This is one of those places where I would love to work myself out of a job, but it’s not going to happen in the immediate future.”

Merriman said local and community-based organizations, as well as the federal government, need to work together to solve the hunger problem, adding “Saskatchewan is one of the few provinces that does not have a poverty reduction strategy.”

The Hunger Count makes 10 recommendations to the federal government, including increasing the Canada child tax benefit and implementing a federal poverty prevention and reduction strategy.

Meanwhile, the Saskatoon Food Bank, along with local meat processors, is holding a Hunt for Hunger campaign for the first time, allowing hunters to tag deer specifically for the food bank.

“We’re setting it up right now and working with local hunters to make sure they have the opportunity that if there’s a population surge in one area, hunters will be able to bring the meat in and do something productive with it,” Merriman said.

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