“If people at the church think they’re going to end poverty by volunteering at the food bank, they’re not,” said Put Food In The Budget provincial organizer Mike Balkwill. “If they think they’re alleviating poverty, they’re maybe alleviating a very small part of it.”

Volunteers at food banks across Canada manage to collect and distribute 90 million kilograms of food per year. But spread out over the 1.7 million Canadians per year who pick up groceries at a food bank, it works out to just less than five kilograms or $24.50 worth of food per month, according to the latest Put Food In The Budget analysis launched at a Dec. 4 provincial campaign meeting in Toronto.

Parish volunteers is no way to run a social policy, according to Hamilton volunteer Susan Mumma.

Why are we continuing to put so much effort into filling up food banks instead of working to close them? I know it doesn’t seem possible in this current economic climate with Ontario continuing to lose full-time jobs, but I believe we have to entertain the notion.

How, you might ask, could we possibly close them when so many people in our communities rely on them?

Well, as Put Food in the Budget (PFIB) reminds us in their latest discussion paper, “We Need to Talk — Who banks on food banks?,” one way would be for the Ontario government to set social assistance and minimum wage rates high enough so that people could afford their own food.

Here we go again. Respected institutions such as the CBC and the Times Colonist are urging us to support our local food banks, and thus we loyal listeners and readers risk sliding into the belief that food banks are a good thing.

Yes, it is a good thing when we are able to help our fellow human beings, but it is not a good thing when we continue to put Band-Aids on what is a gaping wound of inequality.

Today’s soup kitchens and food banks were created in the early 1980s to address food insecurity caused by the recession at the time. The original purpose of these services was as a temporary stopgap, but 30 years later, shouldn’t we be questioning the length of the “emergency”?

The research in our Discussion Paper – We Need to Talk. Who banks on food banks? shows that the $600,000 raised by the CBC Sounds of the Season program in 2013 provided on average a one-time contribution of 2.76 pounds of food to those visiting Daily Bread member food agencies.

It is inaccurate for the Sounds of the Season program to suggest that these food donations will meet the needs of people who are poor – or that these donations will ‘feed the city’.

Charity is a worthy and individual act of compassion. It is completely inadequate however to address the systemic factors that cause poverty.

Corporations to Like Food Banks

The Put Food in the Budget campaign asks the following pertinent questions:

Why do governments and corporations like food banks?

Paying recipients enough social assistance to pay the rent and buy their own food makes much more sense than food bank dependency. Why won’t governments do this?

Again, when the result is so meagre, we must ask what is the real reason for these high-profile corporate charity campaigns?

Undoubtedly, food banks allow some hungry Canadians to be somewhat less hungry. But research shows that the majority of hungry Canadians never go to a food bank — and even those that do so are still hungry. This doesn’t mean we need to donate more food to food banks. It means that we need to tackle the underlying problem, poverty.

There are countless ways our country would benefit from the elimination of poverty. Importantly, it would save us money in the long term. For every dollar spent in poverty reduction, we would save at least $2. The elimination of poverty would save us about 20 per cent of our health care costs. It would also save us buckets of money in the education and justice systems.

The number of households in Ontario turning to food banks for the first time appeared to increase significantly this year, according to an annual survey by the Ontario Association of Food Banks.

In a report released Monday, the association compared food bank usage from March this year to the same month last year and found a 20 per cent spike in first time users.

That meant 17,182 households accessed food banks [for the first time – Ed.] this March compared to 14,206 households last year.

“That is huge,” association spokeswoman Amanda King said of the jump.