Lanja Fletcher prepares the glazed carrots for St. Ann’s Food Bank’s Christmas lunch and party Dec. 5. Photo by Michael Swan.

Food bank use continues to rise

  • December 13, 2015

TORONTO - A renovated four-bedroom house in Riverdale recently sold for $2.1 million. Half of 176 houses sold in the Toronto neighbourhood earlier this year went for more than $716,000. The traffic on the neighbourhood streets is backed up with high-end Mercedes, Lexuses and other exotic brands. Coffee in the neighbourhood will set you back the better part of a $5 bill.

Unfortunately, the food bank at St. Ann’s parish in the neighbourhood is also booming. In previous winters the food bank on the edge of Toronto’s East Chinatown never saw more than 400 clients per month. Now it’s up to 650.

“We never turn anyone away,” said St. Ann Food Bank co-ordinator Colette Carreiro.

St. Ann’s serves an area bounded by the Danforth in the north, Lake Ontario to the South, the Don River in the west and Carlaw Avenue to the east — an area that is also one of Canada’s hottest real estate markets. But the gentrification and growing wealth of local homeowners exists in a parallel universe to the food bank clientele.

What St. Ann’s is seeing isn’t unusual, according to the Ontario Association of Foodbanks annual hunger report, released in time for the Christmas season.

Every month just under 360,000 people in Ontario, including more than 120,000 children, get some part of their groceries and sometimes all of their food from a food bank. This year’s statistical round-up of food bank use includes a 35-per-cent jump in senior citizens picking up charity groceries. Though single people make up nearly half of food bank users, 17.9 per cent are two-parent families and 8.5 per cent rely solely on employment income. New immigrants and refugees are frequently forced to rely on food banks. Almost eight per cent of the patrons at Ontario food banks are new Canadians.

A growing economy, fueled by real estate values and consumer spending, makes no dent in the food bank numbers. Food bank use is still 14 per cent higher than it was before the 2008 market crash. The percentage translates into an extra 45,000 more people per month relying on food banks.

At St. Ann’s they haven’t particularly noticed a bump in seniors coming by, though they are aware that many of their long-term users are growing older — the result of a lifetime trapped in poverty.

“We’ve had a lot of success stories,” said Carreiro as volunteers got ready for the 11th annual St. Ann’s Food Bank Christmas lunch and party Dec. 5. But the few who move on from food bank reliance are more than replaced by new clients.

Carreiro has noticed more families, particularly the large families of recent immigrants from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Families with more than three children find it particularly difficult to make a go of it, she said.

Like most of the food banks around Toronto, St. Ann’s relies on the Daily Bread for about a third of its food and Second Harvest for most of the remainder. It also gets milk and juice from Bridgepoint Health, the rehabilitation hospital near the Don River, and donations from the parish.

The St. Ann’s Food Bank is powered by volunteers, who include both parishioners and friends.

“These are the nicest people you will meet in the city,” declared Lanja Fletcher as she prepared nine kilos (20 lbs) of glazed carrots for the Christmas lunch.

Fletcher started volunteering at St. Ann’s 10 years ago, moved to Australia for a few years, but came straight back to St. Ann’s when she returned to Toronto — looking for friends and a way to be part of the community.

Occasional volunteer David Lang would never miss the opportunity to help out with the annual Christmas lunch.

“I do enjoy the idea,” he said. “It’s the opportunity to give back. A lot of people talk about it, but here you do it.”

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