International students Paola Gonzalez, left, 12, and Maria José Tejeda, 13, sort donated food at Gleaners Food Bank in Belleville, ON Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012
Credits: LUKE HENDRY/QMI AGENCY
OTTAWA -- Despite claims the economy is recovering, the number of Canadians relying on food banks increased last year, a continuation of an uncomfortable trend since the recession of 2008.
The number of Canadians who use food banks is at an all-time high, and a huge chunk of them are children, a new report has found.
Food bank use rose 2.4% this year, and is now 31% higher than before the 2008-09 recession, according to a report from Food Banks Canada.
In a typical month, food banks across the country help 882,000 Canadians, and more than 339,000 (38%) of them are kids.
"It is shocking that, in a country as prosperous as Canada, hundreds of thousands of children rely on food banks to have enough to eat each month," said Katharine Schmidt, executive director of Food Banks Canada, in a statement.
"Though food banks do what they can to fill the need, too many kids are still going to school on empty stomachs."
What's driving the massive jump varies by region.
Northern communities pay high food costs and are among highest users of food banks.
"Through the Nutrition North Canada Program, our government is helping to provide northerners with more affordable access to the most nutritious foods," said Health Minister Leonna Aglukkaq, who is from Nunavut.
Alberta's food banks have seen an almost 60% increase since 2008. In an interview, Schmidt attributed this to a decline in well-paying jobs, which are being replaced with short-term, temporary positions.
About 21% of food bank users are Canadians living on old-age or disability pensions. One in five have income from current or recent employment. And 11% used a food bank for the first time in 2012.
"We feel for those who are struggling," said Human Resources Minister Diane Finley. "While our plan has seen some good results so far, we recognize that more work remains to be done."
Food Bank Canada's recommendations include increased federal support for affordable housing programs, a national food strategy for the North and an legislation to address the decline in good jobs.
Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner said the report's finding reflect that the government cut employment insurance, froze funding for affordable housing and failed to enact a national food strategy.
"This report exposes the sad reality that under the Conservatives, more Canadians have become reliant on food banks," he said.
The study looked at data from more than 4,500 food assistance programs nationwide.