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Editorial: Fix social safety nets

  • December 2, 2021

It’s full throttle on the Christmas shopping season now and even a pandemic isn’t about to put the brakes on people rushing to line up outside stores by buy gifts.

But there are other lineups too — the ones outside food banks, people just looking for their next meal for themselves or their family. And the lines are getting longer every day.

Two recent reports, from Toronto’s Daily Bread Food Bank and Food Banks Canada, reveal how desperate the situation is for thousands of our fellow citizens.

In Toronto, the Daily Bread Food Bank reported 1.45 million visits in the year ending April 1, a 47-per-cent increase over the previous year — including a 61-per-cent increase in first-time clients. A Food Banks Canada report released in October says Canadians made 1.3 million visits to food banks in March of 2021 alone, a 20.3-per-cent increase compared to March 2019, when the pandemic was still a year away.

The arrival of our current health crisis was devastating, of course, pushing businesses over the brink and people out of jobs. Government subsidies helped ensure emergency food distribution would continue, but did not stem the rising numbers of people forced to turn to food banks for survival.

“We’re seeing an increase even with the benefits the government was sending out,” Rick Gocool, who works with the St. Ann’s Church Food Bank in Toronto, told The Register’s Michael Swan. “We’ve got more people, less food.”

It is tempting to think that this is a short-term anomaly, that once the pandemic is in our rear-view mirror the problem of food insecurity will fade from sight. That is not the case. The pandemic merely plunged another dagger into an already fragile environment for those living on the margins of society — in addition to introducing a whole new group of people to life on the edge.

In that part of our towns, what we see are people who can’t afford housing, who are unemployed or working in temporary jobs at minimum wage, who experience discrimination and racism. COVID-19 only worsened their situation — those living in poverty experienced above-average rates of infection.

Food banks do not solve these problems. They are a necessary Band-Aid for the widening cracks in the infrastructure that supports our communities.

“Our social safety net is broken,” David Armour, the CEO of Food Banks Canada, told the CBC. “And as we come out of the pandemic, as we shift our funding and shift our government attention, we really need to build and modernize a better safety net.” Measures to help include added support for low-income households, creating more affordable housing, ensuring universal daycare and expanding Employment Insurance benefits.

These are all important goals to attain. In the meantime, we are called to do what we can to shorten those lineups at food banks, whether through food or, equally important, financial donations.

Canadians have always been very generous, especially in tough times. In this season of giving, we pray they are once more.

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