A new report details who uses food banks in NL. — and it’s not who you might think

A new report released by the University of Toronto found that some 90,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians lived in food-insecure households in 2021. (Shutterstock)

As inflation rates continue to plague Canadians in their daily lives, a new report has shed light on food insecurity in Newfoundland and Labrador – and who suffers from it.

The new food insecurity report from the Proof Research Program at the University of Toronto found that 17.9% of Newfoundland and Labrador households, or some 90,000 people, were considered food insecure in 2021, meaning they were struggling to get food. Among Canadian provinces, the prevalence of food insecurity ranged from 13.1% in Quebec to 20.3% in Alberta.

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

Nearly half of all households in the province profiled in the report are in the labor force, notes Professor Valerie Tarasuk, professor of nutritional sciences. In addition, the rate of food insecurity among people receiving social assistance programs in the province was 68.8%.

Tarasuk said the report’s most disturbing statistic for Newfoundland and Labrador concerned children. While the national food insecurity rate for those 18 and under is one in five, more than one in four children (26.4%) lived in a food-insecure household in NL. -L. in 2021. This equates to some 22,000 children.

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

“Raising children in these environments is not good. Parents will do whatever they can to make sure these children eat. When we say one in four children are food insecure, that does not mean doesn’t mean they’re all hungry. They probably aren’t, but they live in a crisis environment, because someone in that household is going crazy trying to figure out how to deal with everyday life. »

An elderly woman with glasses faces forward smiling.
Valerie Tarasuk, professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto, says the effects of food insecurity on health are indisputable. (Submitted by University of Toronto)

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

Regarding steps that can be taken to combat the crisis, Tarasuk said that while the 10% Earnings Supplement and the Newfoundland and Labrador Seniors Benefit « certainly won’t do any harm » , more action needs to be taken by provincial and federal authorities. .

« The first step to solving your problem is to name it, » Tarasuk said. « It’s a difficult time economically for everyone, but I feel like the provincial and federal governments need to really, really think about how to better support families at this time. »

The report recommends raising the minimum wage, reducing income tax for low-income households and establishing a guaranteed income for all Canadians.

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

While Tarasuk says there are solutions that can be explored, she believes past inaction is an indicator that things won’t change overnight.

“The situation for 2022 is unlikely to improve unless there is very, very deliberate action by our federal and provincial governments,” she said. « We haven’t seen that yet. »

‘Clear indication’ of struggle, says lone parents’ association

The Single Parent Association of Newfoundland has first-hand knowledge of the struggles of local families. The organization experienced a significant increase in demand for all of its services, to the point where it had to close its waiting 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 growing up in single-parent homes. Last year, 364 students took advantage of the program. In 2022, 644 children signed up, with an additional waiting list eventually being put in place.

The Single Parent Association of Newfoundland noted an increase in demand for its back-to-school program, which provides school supplies to children, and had to create a waiting list. (Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank)

“There are probably 25 to 30 students on the waiting list,” Smith said. « We’ll deal with that. But there comes a time when you have to say ‘we’ve reached our limit’, in terms of being able to support families this year, but we have programs that we can help families [with] as well. »

Smith said the dramatic increase in demand for help is a « clear indication of how hard people really are », adding that the situation has steadily deteriorated even since January this year, with many families now resorting to banks food for long periods. occasionally instead of occasionally.

The Single Parent Association says it has seen an increase in demand for its food bank and emergency basket services. (Submitted by Mehnaz Tabassum)

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

« Unfortunately, that’s what’s happening in our province. To be completely honest, we’re seeing more and more families asking for emergency food baskets. We’ve never seen this before. »

Smith estimated that two to three requests for emergency baskets are made each week.

« We see people coming to the food bank and they stay, » Smith said. “Month after month, they receive help from us. Now, with the emergency baskets, we see this almost every day.

« It’s a sad commentary on the way things are going in the province. We need to find a way to be more efficient, to help more people and to help people move on with their lives. Now, it’s about finding out ‘How can we do this?’ It’s our responsibility to do that, and we have to start thinking in those terms. »

WATCH | Explanation of Food Insecurity Evidence Policy Research Findings

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