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A time to indulge in food, and help those who need it

This weekend brings Thanksgiving and a holiday Monday, both reasons to celebrate.

That’s not the case for everybody, however, as it’s prime time for The Food Bank of Waterloo Region and its associated agencies looking to keep the larders full from now through to Christmas, a time when demand climbs.

Last year, 31,400 people in the region required food support, about 36 per cent of them under the age of 18.

That’s comparable to numbers reported by food banks across the country. In addition, results reported nationally show that while a large percentage of those helped are on social assistance, a significant number are working. In Waterloo Region, 17 per cent are working or on EI (recently working), 34 per cent receive social assistance and 30 per cent receive disability benefits.

Also in keeping with a national trend, single people living alone are the fastest growing segment of users. Of those using services in Waterloo Region, single-person households rose from 27 per cent of those needing food support in 2013 to 50 per cent in 2016.

Demographics, particularly the influx of Syrian refugees, added to the demand. With more than 1,200 new arrivals, the food bank provided food starter kits for 200 households to help them transition from shelters to their own homes.

Across the country, the number of people accessing Canadian food banks increased for the third consecutive year in 2016, and is now 28 per cent higher than before the 2008-2009 recession, according to a national study by Food Banks Canada, which conducts an annual Hunger Count report.

In total, 863,492 people received food from a food bank; 307,535 were children, more than one-third of all people accessing the service.

During the food drives now underway, agencies are looking to collect both food staples and money for perishables – each $1 donated provides for three healthy meals.

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, which 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 long weekend, knowing there’s plenty to be thankful for.

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