The number of people turning to food banks for help is at an all-time high, say executives at major food banks across Canada and the United States. According to the HungerCount 2012 national study released by Food Banks Canada, food bank use in Canada increased by 2.4 per cent this year and is now a staggering 31 per cent higher than before the 2008-09 recession. In the United States, one in six Americans faces hunger and staff at many food banks are concerned they won’t be able to keep up with the demand.
“It is shocking that, in a country as prosperous as Canada, hundreds of thousands of children rely on food banks to have enough to eat each month,” said Katharine Schmidt, executive director of Food Banks Canada, which coordinated the national study involving more than 4,500 food assistance programs. “Though food banks do what they can to fill the need, too many kids are still going to school on empty stomachs.”
There is no typical profile of a food bank client. Those in need of help include families with children, employed people whose wages are not sufficient to cover basic living essentials, individuals on social assistance and those living on a fixed income, including people with disabilities and seniors.
Furthermore, according to the study, one in five households assisted by food banks has income from current or recent employment and 11 per cent of those receiving food each month — 93,000 people — are accessing a food bank for the first time. Half of households receiving food are families with children and 21 per cent of households helped are living on an old-age or disability pension.
“Hunger saps you physically and emotionally — particularly if you don’t know where your next meal is coming from,” said Schmidt. “It has negative long-term health impacts, and prevents Canadians from contributing to their full potential.”
So how can you help?
Athletes know that poor nutrition choices can have a big impact on sports performance. For people dealing with chronic hunger and inadequate supplies of nutrients, the negative effects can be physically and emotionally devastating. This year many food banks have had to cut back on the amount of food provided to each household. To help your local food bank stock its shelves, why not run a simplefood drive at your next big hockey game? Invite friends, family, neighbours and community members out to support both your team and the local food bank. Let them know ahead of time that the “price” of admission is non-perishable food items. Simply set up a few food bins at the entrance of the arena — and then give them a great show!
Here are a few simple steps to help make your food drive a success:
- Pick a date. For many food banks, the demand for food peaks in mid-December. However, food banks are grateful for support all year long. A new year food drive is a great way to help restock empty shelves, and a spring food drive is helpful when support may not be as plentiful.
- Pick a goal. Goals help motivate participants to give more! In addition to food items, you may also want to accept cash donations. At Feeding America, $1 equals eight meals. For every $1 donated to Food Banks Canada, it can acquire and share $8 worth of food.
- Choose a catchy name or theme for your food drive. You could do a peanut butter and jelly drive, a protein drive (canned meat and fish) or a soup drive.
- Create some materials, such as posters and an email blast, to spread the word. You can even send an announcement to your local newspaper. Don’t forget to involve the opposing team — they will be happy to participate. And no matter what the score, everyone will feel like a winner!
- Decorate some large boxes to hold the food and place them at the entrance of the arena. Don’t forget to tape the bottom of the boxes before you fill them.
- Choose the game MVP and a few helpers to deliver the boxes to the food bank. Note: Most food banks have a scale to weigh food donations. You may want to take a photo and send it — along with details regarding the amount of food you raised — to your local paper, as well as to those who supported your food drive.
Creative game-day ideas to help you reach your collection goals:
- Do a 50/50 draw and give all the proceeds to the food bank.
- For every goal scored, have crowd members donate a dollar.
- Create a display board to show hunger statistics.