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Helping others enjoy Christmas

Posted on November 20, 2013 by Lethbridge Sun Times

Halloween has come and gone, meaning next up on the consumer calendar is Christmas. But coinciding with the unofficial start of the run-up to Christmas, Food Banks Canada has released some sobering news: food bank use in Canada continues to hover near record levels.

Food Banks Canada released its annual report on food bank use earlier this month, and according to HungerCount 2013, food banks in this country are providing food for about 833,000 people. Nearly four in 10 of them are children. On the positive side, that total was down from the more than 872,000 people who used food banks in Canada the previous March, when the survey is done, but in the larger picture, it’s a considerable increase from the 675,735 people using food banks in 2008.

For many, Canada is a country of abundance, but clearly, for too many others, there isn’t enough. The latest HungerCount survey found that every month, 80,000 Canadians are having to turn to a food bank for assistance for the first time. Nearly half of those are seniors whose income isn’t sufficient to put enough food on their tables. In addition, nearly 12 per cent of households relying on food banks have employment income — it just isn’t enough to meet housing and food requirements.

“The inability to obtain enough food, when it is abundant all around us, is physically and psychologically scarring,” Katharine Schmidt, executive director of Food Banks Canada, said in a news release. “It is simply unacceptable in a nation as prosperous as Canada. We are calling on the federal and provincial governments to make real investments in policies that will reduce the need for food banks.”

In the meantime, the burden of feeding Canada’s less fortunate citizens falls on communities, and specifically the food banks from coast to coast whose work never ends.

Fortunately, our communities are populated by generous folks whose support enables the food banks to carry out their mission. In Lethbridge, the effort was given a big boost recently when Exhibition Park gave a donation of $1,000 each to the Lethbridge Food Bank and Interfaith Food Bank. The donations were part of the Dream Big in 2013 project, an initiative undertaken by the International Association of Fairs and Expositions to aid food banks.

Lethbridge’s food banks have teamed up once again with the Salvation Army for its annual Christmas hamper program. The three agencies expect to assist about 2,000 local households during the coming Christmas season.

Across the province, the numbers are staggering. The HungerCount report noted that in Alberta, 48,653 people were helped by food banks in March of this year, representing almost a 45 per cent increase since 2008.

Among the five “action areas” Food Banks Canada recommends in this year’s report is calling on the federal government to commit to long-term funding for affordable housing “so that people are not forced to choose between paying rent or buying food.”

Food isn’t an option, it’s a necessity, and when this many Canadian citizens are struggling to put food on their table, it’s an indication that something isn’t working in this land of plenty.

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