Food bank volunteers unload donations. At the Mississauga Food Bank, some clients have asked about assisted suicide. Register file photo by Michael Swan

Food bank director raises MAiD alarm

  • December 7, 2022

As the CEO of the Mississauga Food Bank, Meghan Nicholls felt the pressing need to spread the word on how tough things are these days. 

She penned a column published on on Nov. 30. The headline of this piece read, “I run a food bank. We’ve seen a 60-per-cent increase in demand.”

A compelling title, it accurately depicts the reality of the all-time food bank usage throughout Canada in 2022. However, it is the subhead quote that is truly attention-grabbing.

“Clients are telling us they’re considering medically assisted death or suicide because they can’t live in grinding poverty anymore.”

Nicholls told The Catholic Register that some of the home delivery customers serviced by the food bank informed staff “that they were in such a desperate state mental health-wise and their outlook on improvement was so poor they were considering ending their own life.”

“For me, I felt like I needed to raise another level of alarm bell that people’s poverty is driving them to such extremes of despair.”

Nicholls, who originally joined the Mississauga Food Bank in 2009 as its director of marketing and development, has consulted with the leaders of food banks in the surrounding area and across the country about the impact widespread economic strife is having on clients.

“Certainly, they were able to reflect back that they have heard clients really struggle with mental health, and have had a lot more requests for referrals such as, ‘can you help me get connected with someone in the community who can help me?’ But no one else so far has been feeling it as deeply that they’ve reported clients sharing with them plans to take their own lives,” she said. 

“I don’t know if that’s a bit of an anomaly or if it’s just because we operate this home delivery program. We do have a chance to connect with clients directly, and that kind of relationship might open us up for people to share a little bit more vulnerably than perhaps some other food banks.”

In her Maclean’s piece, Nicholls wrote that “we can’t underestimate the effect that poverty has on someone’s mental health. Our clients live with constant worry, and cut corners on needed items like medication, fresh food or warm clothes — constantly living under that stress takes its toll mentally, emotionally and physically.”

The pressures encountered at the Mississauga Food Bank have been escalating and unrelenting throughout the calendar year. The 60-per-cent jump in usage since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic mentioned in her column denotes a leap from 19,000 to 30,000 food bank customers. And this October, one location in its network was visited by 11,000 people.

In her column, Nicholls says “about 75 per cent of people who use the food bank have a source of income, whether that’s through employment, social assistance or disability benefits.” 

She said she has heard anecdotally “that some people are coming into the food banks saying, ‘I used to donate. I would send some cans to the food drive for my kid’s school. I used to drop some coins in the jar. Now, here I am asking for support.’ ”

The rising costs have also made it difficult for the food bank to replenish its supplies as their wholesalers and vendors are also being squeezed by inflation. According to the Consumer Price Index for October 2022, food purchased from stores inflated year over year by 11 per cent. Some staples saw even higher increases: 44.8 per cent more for dry or fresh pasta, 40.4 per cent extra for margarine, lettuce was up by more than 30 per cent, eggs increased by 13.8 per cent. 

Since Nicholls’ column hit the web, she said it has attracted interview requests from other media outlets and some sizable online traffic. However, she had not yet received any calls from federal or provincial government representatives in the region. She did toast Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie in her column for her support of the holiday food drive that launched on Nov. 14. The campaign is striving to raise $1.7 million and 450,000 pounds of food by Jan. 6. 

Ideally, Nicholls would like to see rates increased for recipients of the Ontario Works welfare system and the Ontario Disability Support Program get a boost in funding to help Ontarians through the troubling waters. She also wants to see supports for low-wage workers and efforts made to create affordable housing.

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