Group addresses city’s hunger woes

Martha Kivanda says most of the food provided at food banks are unhealthy because they’re either expired or close to the expiry date.

A single mother and student, Kivanda says she’s become discouraged in using food services.

Kivanda expressed her concerns at The Recession Relief Coalition’s Hunger Inquiry held at The Church of the Holy Trinity on Tuesday. Members of the coalition, comprised of organizations and individuals, spent over a year working to document the impact of the recession on Canadian citizens and the organizations that assist them.

The Hunger Inquiry, the coalition’s latest initiative, brought together more than 30 front line workers, social service agency staff, community leaders, academia and people directly affected by hunger. They all spoke of their concerns before a panel: Baby & Toddler Nutrition Program Facilitator, Toni Panzuto; a family doctor from St. Michael’s Hospital, Gary Bloch; an economist from Canadian Auto Workers, Jim Stanford; food activist, Joshna Maharaj; former moderator of the United Church of Canada, Bruce McLeod; and Linda Chamberlain from Dream Team.

The speakers addressed the crowd in three defining categories, health, food access and income/economy, but issues regarding Toronto food banks and drop-in centres took precedence.

Kivanda said the food bank system needs changing.

“As a young adult on the road to independence, I would suggest these services be more youth-friendly, less intimidating, more supportive, resourceful to families, easily accessible, not judgmental and provide nutritious meals for families in need,” she said.

Patricia Diaz, 60, of Peacock Poverty, raised concerns about the weight of the food bank packages and its lack of nutrition.

“I physically cannot carry the food home from the food banks. What people don’t understand is when times get tough; whatever is in that box or bag is what you eat, whether it’s mixing mayonnaise with noodles or whatever slop you can put together,” Diaz said. “Right now, physically, it is a big issue for women not being able to carry that stuff home, especially since we know so much about food and the nutritional value isn’t worth it.”

Michelle Quintal, a worker from the Toronto Drop-in Network (TDIN), could relate to the food woes.

“Our daily experience at drop-in centres is that we often run out of food and are unable to give people seconds. We often say things like, ‘I’m sorry, you can only have one glass of milk’ or ‘I’m sorry, that’s all we have today, you’ll have to come earlier tomorrow.”

A report conducted by TDIN (No one should stand alone in their hunger: What people in drop-ins have to say), suggested nearly 100 people in six different drop-in centres in Toronto echoed the same sentiments as the community members affected by hunger.

Food Bank Coordinator of Agincourt Community Services, Christine Markwell, says food banks are often the first aspect of the social support system to face criticism. Working as a coordinator for over two years, she says food banks seem to be the most real means of providing help.  Markwell says several initiatives need to be put in place to put an end to Toronto’s hunger history.

“There are bigger political problems than just food banks. There needs to be a breaking down of barriers,” Markwell said. “There needs to be more work, a growing economy, more job creation and people with diplomas need to be able to create organizations, not just businesses, which is what we are always talking about. Such as social service organizations or art organizations – there needs to be something for people to do with their time.”

The panelists will develop recommendations based on the findings discovered from the Hunger Inquiry. Once completed, a report will be distributed to organizations to use as a resource. The Hunger Inquiry’s long-term goal is to encourage further action.

One comment:

  1. As someone who has used food banks (on disability) and having been a volunteer board member at Daily Bread Food Bank years back, I agree wuth what is said in this article. The reality is that the central warehouses of food banks (where they gather and sort and repackage donations to go out to local food banks) do try to balance nutrition, but it is being done at the wrong end. What’s in the warehouse overall IS balanced, but with demand so high and the mistakes made by busy staff and volunteers bot there and locally, what gets into the hands of individuals is VERY inconsistent.

    I had lobbied (unsuccessfully) for regular random spot checks at the end-user (individual recipient) by dieticians. Does the $13-$17 worth of groceries you get meet nutritional needs? Not in my experience or judgement.

    Low income issues are not popular with the general public, particularly during elections, and our society would rather passively ignore the problems.

    What is really needed is a concerted, persistent and ‘in-your-face’ activist campaign by both those in the food bank industry and the media to wake up the public to the suffering of their neighbours and relatives.

    Food Banks were a “TEMPORARY, STOP-GAP MEASURE” about 30+ years ago.
    It’s time to recognize that passive pleading for understanding does not work.

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