New report details who uses food banks in N.L. — and it's not who you might think

·5 min read
A new report released by the University of Toronto found some 90,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians lived in households struggling with food insecurity in 2021. (Shutterstock - image credit)
A new report released by the University of Toronto found some 90,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians lived in households struggling with food insecurity in 2021. (Shutterstock - image credit)
Shutterstock
Shutterstock

As inflation rates continue to hound Canadians in their everyday lives, a new report has shed light on food insecurity in Newfoundland and Labrador — and who is experiencing it.

The University of Toronto's Proof Research Program's new report on food insecurity found that 17.9 per cent of households in Newfoundland and Labrador — amounting to some 90,000 residents — were considered to be food insecure in 2021, meaning they struggled to afford food. Among Canadian provinces, the prevalence of food insecurity ranged from 13.1 per cent in Quebec to 20.3 per cent in Alberta.

Contrary to what people might assume, says the U of T professor whose program released the report, the data shows most people dealing with food insecurity are working adults and their families.

Almost half of all households in the province outlined in the report are in the workforce, notes Prof. Valerie Tarasuk, a professor of nutritional sciences. In addition, the rate of food insecurity among those on social assistance programs in the province came in at 68.8 per cent.

Tarasuk said the report's most disturbing statistic for Newfoundland and Labrador revolved around children. While the national rate of food insecurity among those 18 and under is one in five, more than one in four children (26.4 per cent) lived in a food-insecure household in N.L. in 2021. That equates to some 22,000 children.

"The effects of food insecurity on health are indisputable," said Tarasuk.

"Raising children in those environments is not good. Parents will do whatever they can to make sure those children eat. When we say one in four children are in food-insecure situations, that doesn't mean they're all going hungry. They're probably not, but they're living in an environment that is in crisis, because somebody in that household is going crazy trying to figure out how to manage from day to day."

Submitted by University of Toronto
Submitted by University of Toronto

Tarasuk said children in these environments are more likely to struggle academically and deal with physical and mental health issues over time.

As far as steps that can be taken to combat the crisis, Tarasuk said that while Newfoundland and Labrador's 10 per cent income supplement and seniors' benefit are "certainly not going to do any harm," more action must be taken by provincial and federal authorities.

"The first step to solving your problem is to name it," said Tarasuk. "It's a difficult time economically for everybody, but I feel like the provincial and federal governments really, really need to get their heads around how to better support families right now."

The report recommends increasing minimum wages, cutting income tax for lower-income households and introducing a guaranteed income for all Canadians.

"One of the positive things about Newfoundland and Labrador is that there's been a clear recognition of the importance of food insecurity both in the conversations in the province around minimum wage, but also in the Health Accord," said Tarasuk. "I think it's wonderful, [but] this is not something I would say across the country."

While Tarasuk says there are solutions that can be explored, she feels past inaction is an indicator that things will not change overnight.

"It's unlikely the situation for 2022 is going to look better unless there's very, very deliberate action on the part of our federal and provincial governments," she said. "We haven't seen that yet."

'A clear indication' of struggle, says Single Parent Association

The Single Parent Association of Newfoundland has first-hand knowledge of the struggles of local families. The organization has experienced a significant increase in demand for all of its services, to the point where it has had to close its wait-list.

Executive director Sonya Smith says the organization hosts an annual back to school program, where they fill book bags with school supplies for children in the K-12 system who are growing up in single-parent homes. Last year, 364 students availed of the program. In 2022, 644 children registered, with an additional wait list ultimately being implemented.

Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank
Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank

"There's probably 25-30 students on the wait-list," said Smith. "We'll take care of that. But there comes a point when you have to say 'we've reached our limit,' in terms of being able to provide for families this year, but we have programs we can help families [with] as well."

According to Smith, the dramatic jump in demand for assistance is a "clear indication of how much people are actually struggling," adding that the situation has steadily deteriorated even since January of this year, with many families now availing of food banks for extended periods of time instead of occasionally.

Submitted by Mehnaz Tabassum
Submitted by Mehnaz Tabassum

Smith said she was not surprised by the numbers in the report.

"Sadly, that's what's happening in our province. To be quite honest, we're seeing more families calling for emergency food hampers. We haven't seen that before."

Smith estimated two to three requests for emergency hampers are being made each week.

"We're seeing people come to the food bank, and they're staying," said Smith. "Month after month, they're receiving help from us. Now with the emergency hampers, we're seeing that every day, almost.

"It's a sad commentary on the way that things are in the province. We've got to figure out a way that we can be more efficient, help more people, and help people move forward with their lives. Now it's about finding out 'How can we do that?' That's our responsibility to do that, and we have to start thinking in those terms."

WATCH | Proof Food Insecurity Policy Research findings explained

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