GUEST COLUMN: Why are food banks still necessary?

I often get asked this question because food banks, started in the early ‘80s, were intended to be a temporary measure until the economy improved.

Yet, 33 years later, they are an important service in every community because of structural changes in our society. The sad fact is food banks are here to stay.

Historically, the first line of support for anyone in crisis was family. Lost a job or got behind on bills – family was there to help. People lived near their birthplace, which meant a nearby safety net. Today, families are far-flung with children (or parents) moving to find jobs. When a life crisis happens now, the community must step in to help.

Last year, Canada transitioned from a country with a majority of workers in well-paying manufacturing jobs to a majority in the service industry, a field known for minimum wage, part-time, no-benefit jobs.  Many households must take on multiple part-time jobs to get sufficient hours.

Get sick or stay home with an ill child, and your paycheque won’t cover the utility bills. With no benefits, buying medication means dipping into the food budget.

In 1995, the former Harris Government slashed social assistant rates 20%. Today, they remain below what they were then, drastically less so when inflation is factored in.

Imagine losing your job, your EI runs out, and you to turn to Ontario Works to survive.  If you’re single, you’ll get $600 a month. How can you possibly live on that?

A single person on disability receives just over $1,000 a month.

We’re a society that lives on credit.  High school students are sent credit card offers. Many folks believe a $5,000 credit limit means you have that to spend. This, coupled with commercialism (I want it all now!) built by rabid marketing machines, has drained personal savings and increased personal debt.  Many households are a lay-off, illness or car breakdown away from needing community help.

The Inn of the Good Shepherd food bank program sees 1,700 people every month. Sixty-five percent are employed, recently lost a job or are on a retirement or disability pension. That should dispel the myth people are just too lazy to get a job.

The Inn started over 33 years ago as a food cupboard and weekly meal.  Now, we are a full food bank, serve a meal every day, run two emergency shelters, and provide rent/utility assistance, school backpacks, winter coats, income tax clinics, mobile market and so much more.

Because of the issues above, food banks are still here and have expanded to provide the compassionate and caring society we all want to have.

 Myles Vanni has served as Executive Director at The Inn of the Good Shepherd for nine years.