AMHERST – Rev. Charlotte Ross still dreams of the day when food banks won’t be needed.
The head of the Amherst Food Assistance Network is not surprised with statistics showing food bank use is continuing to climb in Nova Scotia and across the country.
The Amherst food bank, located on King Street, continues to see a slight increase in demand from year to year. It presently serves about 300 families in the Amherst area, amounting to approximately 800 mouths to feed.
“We saw a big jump in 2010, when there was an increase of between 10 and 15 per cent. It has been staying about the same since then, but there’s a slight increase this year,” Ross said.
Food Banks Canada released its Hunger Count 2012 on Tuesday, indicating the number of Canadians turning to food banks is at an all-time high. After dipping slightly in 2011, food bank use in Canada jumped 2.4 per cent in March 2012. Use is 31 per cent higher than before the 2008-09 recession.
The Hunger Count report indicates that on a monthly basis, food banks provide support to 882,000 people – 38 per cent of whom are children.
“It’s 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,” Food Banks Canada executive director Katharine Schmidt said. “Though food banks do what they can to fill the need, too many kids are still going to school on empty stomachs.”
Food Banks Canada collected the information for its latest Hunger Count by contacting more than 4,500 food assistance programs.
In Amherst, Ross said she is seeing a lot of families with children using the food bank. She is also seeing an increase in the number of pensioners using the food bank.
“Many of these people are on fixed incomes, but prices are continuing to increase,” she said.
Ross said the numbers are changing in that younger people are returning to jobs out west. Others, especially older clients, are quickly replacing them.
A number of food bank users have jobs, she said, but many are working at one or more minimum wage jobs to try to make ends meet. Also as the service industry declines with the end of the tourist season, there are more seasonal workers using the food bank as well.
“No one wants to use the food bank, but there are situations when there is no other choice,” Ross said.
Ross said with the support of Feed Nova Scotia and the community, the food bank is able to meet the needs of the centre’s clients. There have been several community food drives in recent weeks, including the Cumberland Y Service Club’s annual fall food drive.
Other events are being planned in the coming weeks including Sunday’s event at the Amherst Lions Club that’s being organized by a group of local musicians.
In March 2012
23,561 Nova Scotians were assisted by food banks
32.6 per cent were under age 18
39.3 per cent increase in the number of individuals accessing food banks since 2008.