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Thanksgiving shines a light on hunger issues

October brings Thanksgiving and a big Bavarian festival to the region. It’s also a time for a major push by agencies providing food to those not fortunate enough to simply stop by the supermarket to pick up a turkey and all the trimmings, let alone spend time enjoying the offerings of the festhallen.

This is prime time for The Food Bank of Waterloo Region and its associated agencies as they look to keep the larders full from Thanksgiving through to Christmas, a time when demand climbs. Based on numbers from last year’s “Hunger Count,” 33,723 different people accessed emergency food assistance from member agencies of The Food Bank of Waterloo Region in 2014. Overall, 77,415 hampers were distributed to 61,697 households, and 434,510 meals were served by food bank agencies.

The agency reports that hunger continues to affect those who are most vulnerable in our community: 36 per cent of those who access emergency food are children. Of the households that access emergency food assistance 28 per cent are single parent families and 21per cent are two parent families. Other households accessing food assistance are couples without children (eight per cent) and single individuals (43 per cent).

During the food drive now underway, The Food Bank of Waterloo Region is looking to raise enough food and funds to provide 790,000 meals. Currently, the most needed food items are: beans in sauce, canned meat & fish, canned pasta, canned fruit, stews and chili, tomato sauce, rice, peanut butter and hot cereal.

Financial donations are also important, as $20 is enough to feed a family of four for four days.

Within the region, 17 per cent of those accessing food assistance are employed or receive Employment Insurance, while 30 per cent receive Ontario Disability Support. Some 40 per cent of households receiving food support are families with children.

Residents of many different backgrounds rely on the support of emergency food assistance. Some 18 per cent of those who rely on emergency assistance are the working poor, this includes those who are working full-time, part-time or are receiving employment insurance. Others acquire their primary income from Ontario Works (36 per cent), Ontario Disability Support (28 per cent), pension (seven per cent), student loans (two per cent), disability (one per cent), while six per cent have no income and two per cent of participants’ income is unknown.

The majority of individuals rent their housing either privately (78 per cent) or in public housing (14 per cent), while a small number own their own home (six per cent) or are currently staying with family or friends (one per cent).

Across the province, the Ontario Association of Food Banks reports that 360,000 Ontarians rely on food banks each month. About a third of them are children under the age of 18. About half of food bank participants are from single-person households. Last year’s tally showed a 35 per cent increase in usage by seniors over the same period in 2014.

While demand is highest in the cities, the rural townships are not exempt: Woolwich Community Services, which looks after Woolwich and part of Wellesley, faces the same need to re-stock its shelves. Dropping off a few items is an easy task. Then go and enjoy the rest of the long weekend, knowing there’s plenty to be thankful for.

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