Going hungry

Heather Killen
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Business is booming for charities that feed the people

Source: www.feednovascotia.ca

By Heather Killen

The Spectator

hkillen@annapolisspectator.ca

 

The latest figures show that food banks are among the fastest growing organizations in rural Nova Scotia.

The latest HungerCount report compiled by Food Banks Canada is showing high numbers of Canadians are accessing food banks. What was considered a short-term emergency measure to help people through one recession has become a long-term necessity through another.

Lions Clubs and the Salvation Army have also been providing emergency assistance for several years and now the Women’s Place in Annapolis Royal is hoping to create its own emergency relief fund that women can access in the future.

Brenda Thompson, of the Women’s Place, said that each winter women come to the resource center needing emergency assistance. So far this year, they’ve had eight women asking for help.

“It starts as soon as the cold weather starts,” she said. “This year it began earlier because the cold weather set in sooner. And we were all just hit with another increase in the cost of electricity.”

 

Safety Net?

The safety net offered by Employment Insurance and social assistance is becoming more difficult to access, and the incomes supplied by these programs have not kept pace with the cost of living, making it difficult for families to afford adequate, nutritious food, she added.

Even a small hike on the cost of electricity matters a great deal when someone is watching pennies. Thompson said they’ve had requests to help pay for firewood, as well as food, oil, and gas.

The high cost of staying warm this winter is forcing many to make a hard choice between staying warm and putting food on the table.  This year the Women’s Place is in the process of creating a fund that will help provide emergency assistance in the future.

Part of the idea behind this fund started about a month before Christmas, when readers were shocked to hear that a local woman was living with no heat and electricity.  People were touched by the story and wanted to help, some made donations to the Kingston Lions Club and to the Women’s Place.

 

Feed Nova Scotia

It takes about a year after a plant closes before we start seeing the people. Diane Swinamer, Feed Nova Scotia

Dianne Swinamer, of Feed Nova Scotia, says every time a Valley area industry shuts its doors, new business walks through her doors. Food bank usage has sharply risen in the Valley over the past several years.

Feed Nova Scotia is a Halifax-based organization that collects and distributes food to more than 150 member agency food banks and meal programs across the province, including 16 food banks operating from Windsor through Yarmouth.

“It takes about a year after a plant closes before we start seeing the people,” she said. “Housing is a big issue in rural areas, many people can’t afford their homes.”

Even though there has been an increase to minimum wage, the rising costs continue to put pressure on working families.

According to Hunger Count’s latest figures, food bank usage across the county was close to record levels in 2013 and was 23 per cent higher than it was before the last recession began in 2008.

“The belief used to be that people must be doing something wrong if they had to visit a food bank, but the reality is you don’t have to look very far to know someone in that position,” she said. “People are doing the best they can to bring their children up to be healthy in an economically challenged area.”

 

High Numbers

In Nova Scotia, 21,760 people visited food banks in March 2013, up 28.6 per cent over numbers collected for 2008. In the Valley-Yarmouth district, usage is up a staggering 70 per cent from 2008.

While food banks started 25 years ago as a temporary measure to help people through the recession, no one factored in the long-term changes taking place.

In rural communities many live in older homes that are harder to heat, and finding affordable transportation is another factor that affects the ability to afford food, she says.

 “We’re here because we need to be here and the need continues to grow,” she said.

For more information on Feed Nova Scotia and the latest reports, click here.

Organizations: Food Banks Canada, Salvation Army, Annapolis Royal Employment Insurance Kingston Lions Club

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Windsor

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