Thursday, April 24, 2014

Food banks seeing more usage

Christmas is a time of giving, not only to family and friends but to those in the community less fortunate than you.
One way of helping the latter is through food banks.

Usage of food banks across Canada is near record highs almost four years after the end of the economic recession, according to Food Banks Canada, with Fort Frances and area being no different.
The recently-released annual study by Food Banks Canada shows more than 833,000 Canadians relied on food hand-outs during one snapshot month earlier this year.
More than a third of them were children, and more than half of those turning to food banks are families with children.
Low-income jobs seem to be the culprit—12 percent of households asking for help currently were employed while another five percent recently were employed.
Danielle Spuzak, the Homelessness Outreach Worker at the United Native Friendship Centre here, said the food bank there is seeing increased use this year.
From April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013, for instance, the UNFC food bank served 435 people.
That number ballooned to more than 500 people from April 1-Nov. 15.
“The food bank is busy year-round but in the winter months, it increases closer to Christmas,” noted Spuzak.
People accessing the food bank are diverse, ranging from single-parent families, the working poor, two-parent families, and people on E.I. social assistance, seniors, and singles.
They include both aboriginal and non-aboriginal people.
“We service all people from the community, aboriginal and non-aboriginal,” Spuzak said.
“We don’t deny anyone in need of assistance,” she stressed.
Spuzak explained the food bank portion of the UNFC Homelessness Program’s budget is “very minimal,” as it provides other emergency services in addition to helping the hungry.
“The food bank relies on donations from local churches, community people, and schools,” she remarked, adding its main source of support prior to Christmas is the OPP’s “Stuff-A-Cruiser” and food drives by the Fort Frances Lakers’ hockey team.
“Further support is needed,” she noted.
Those who’d like to donate to, or access, the UNFC food bank can drop by the office (517 Portage Ave.) on Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Meanwhile, the Sunset Country Métis reported its food bank also has been busy.
“It is pretty well-utilized,” said community wellness co-ordinator Charmaine Langlais.
“This year, we’ve helped 125 families to date so that’s not including Christmas,” she noted.
“Anybody access it—absolutely anybody­—once every 30 days.”
Langlais said a wide spectrum of people use the food bank but quite a few are on some form of assistance.
Because the cost of housing is so high, and their income limited, these people have little money left after paying their rent, she remarked.
“We also have people who work but they just don’t make enough.”
With money even more tight during the holiday season, Langlais is expecting the food bank to be even busier than normal this month.
Langlais explained the food bank has been supported wholly through donations and fundraising. But this year, it got a boost with funding from the Rainy River District Social Services Administrative Board.
That said, the food bank always could use more non-perishable food item or cash donations to keep it stocked.
Langlais noted the community-based “Healthy Living Food Box” program, of which the Sunset Country Métis is a partner, is an affordable way for people to get fresh, healthy food.
Costing $20 a month, food boxes are paid for on the first Wednesday of the month and then picked up the third Wednesday of month at the Métis Hall (714 Armit Ave.)
Langlais said the reason for the food box coming out the third week of the month is not arbitrary—that’s the same time when the food banks are accessed a lot as people wait for the next month’s cheque.
Those who’d like to donate to, or access, the Sunset Country Métis food bank can drop by the office (426 Victoria Ave.) on Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
As reported in last week’s Times, the local Salvation Army indicated its food bank also needs help.
Between January and October of this year, the Salvation Army has had to help 51 new families access the food bank and family services.
This is on top of the 800 individuals and families the Salvation Army aided in 2012.
Community partners will give the public an easy way to help local food banks with its “Stuff-A-Cruiser” campaign, which will take place here next Saturday (Dec. 14).
OPP, Treaty #3 Police, and CN Police officers will be collecting non-perishable food items to support the Salvation Army, UNFC, Sunset Country Métis, and Fort Frances Volunteer Bureau food banks.

More stories