Need is quite deep within the community

Food bank demand is up 10 per cent over pre-recession rates.

March is typically “the hunger snapshot” month for Hamilton Food Share, and this year’s version wasn’t a pretty picture, even if numbers were down slightly from 2012.

A total of 7,420 families relied on food banks in March, 500 of them for the first time.

Overall, about two-thirds of clients were women and children.

“It’s quite depressing, actually, when you look at it,” says Rachel O’Reilly, resource development director at Food Share, which opened its doors in 1990.

“We’re up about 10 per cent from pre-recession rates, so the need is quite deep within this community,” she says, noting there’s no end in sight for food banks, considered a temporary stop-gap measure when they first appeared in the 1980s.

“One of the things we always say at Hamilton Food Share is that no child should go to bed hungry, but currently in our community we have more than 6,000 that do every month.”

O’Reilly says many people have to use food banks because the minimum wage, frozen at $10.25 an hour since 2010, doesn’t provide enough to make ends meet.

Anti-poverty groups have set $14 as a livable wage for Hamilton.

“How can you live on $10 an hour when a livable wage is $4 more?” she asks. “That’s more than a third of an increase that’s needed just for you to be able to live on.”

In the absence of government action, Food Share provides more than two million pounds of food to hungry families each year, often by working directly with the food industry.

For example, O’Reilly notes that a deal brokered years ago by the Ontario Association of Food Banks with dairy farmers, wholesalers and producers sees Food Share receive 13,000 litres of donated milk each month.

Even with expenses, including storage and distribution from its Barton Street warehouse in Stoney Creek, the milk costs Food Share between $500 and $600 — compared to the $26,000 it would cost if bought off the shelf.

While the food industry accounts for 85 per cent of donations, O’Reilly said food drives like the month-long one Hamilton Community News is spearheading in partnership with Food Share play a vital role, including by raising awareness.

Last year, Food Share bought $238,000 worth of food for member agencies.

The most needed food items include canned meats and fish, cold cereal, pasta sauce and packages of dry pasta, baby food and formula with at least six weeks until expiry, fruit cups, fruit drinking boxes, canned pastas, meat soups, powdered milk, Kraft dinner, peanut butter, jam, canned vegetables, and pork and beans.