Look to the person on your left, now look to the person on your right. Chances are that 1 of the 3 of you are living with diabetes or prediabetes. And, alarmingly, you may be one of the 1.5 million people in Canada who have no idea that they have this disease.
Diabetes is a pressing concern for our members. People living in poverty have a much higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes and treating diabetes is especially difficult for people who use food banks because of the lack of fresh, healthy food available. So we’re working to take action on this critical health issue facing our community.
Over the past year North York Harvest & Flemingdon Health Centre have teamed up to provide Diabetes Education Programs for residents in the Don Mills area. Our goal is to provide these programs quarterly for those living with or caring for those with diabetes.
We had a chance to speak with Elena Sobolev, Certified Diabetes Educator & Registered Dietitian regarding these life saving programs.
How did you determine the need for these programs through the food bank?
We have looked at a few areas where clients accessing food banks can benefit from our program. This includes food insecurity, which can be one important risk factor for those living with diabetes or even those who are at high risk; newcomers who need to prioritize settling in and putting food on the table, instead of paying attention to their health, etc.
How many people have participated in the program?
15 participants attended our June session, and 12 participants attended our September session
What is the link between diabetes and poverty?
We know that poverty is a strong risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. The chronic stress of low income living can increase the levels of cortisol (a stress-hormone), which can result in elevated blood sugar levels. Also, individuals who live in poverty often struggle with access to healthy foods and physical activity programs, which in turn can increase the risk for type 2 diabetes.
What kind of barriers does one in poverty face when dealing with diabetes?
There is a number of barriers faced by individuals who live in poverty. These include lack of access to healthy foods, physical activity programs, as well as high cost of diabetes medications and medical equipment (ex: blood sugar test strips).
What are the effects of untreated diabetes in one that does not have proper access to care or healthy food?
Unfortunately, the consequences of poorly controlled diabetes are quite severe. People can develop problems with their kidneys, eyes, nerves (which can results in amputations), and heart disease (heart attack or stroke).
More and more people of all ages are living with diabetes and being educated is so important. November is Diabetes Awareness month and a great opportunity to learn more about how to take care of yourself and those who love. Please visit https://www.diabetes.ca/ to learn more.
Often when we think of poverty, we don’t think about how deep the problem is in our very own backyard.
In North York, poverty hides in high rise apartments, rooming houses and shelters. Often food is the last priority on a long list of bills that must be paid by our neighbours who are struggling to make ends meet each month.
All too often, we hear stories like Holly’s.
“I always thought I could do it on my own. I was able to pay my rent, phone, and medications with the little money I had. Food was always last on my list. Being a type 1 diabetic that takes insulin every day, eating properly is very important. I soon realized that I could not do everything on my own.
I found the food bank and soon found out I was receiving more than help with my food. I found a sense of community”.
Because of skyrocketing housing prices, unsteady employment and social assistance rates that have failed to keep up with the cost of the living in our city – thousands of our neighbours are struggling to get by each day. Together we can change that.
Your support provides more than food. It provides social inclusion through programs like Community Kitchens, employment readiness training like our Leadership in Logistics program and ensures we can continue to invest in long term solutions to end hunger and poverty. We know that food banks alone aren’t the answer. With your help, we can make sure providing essential emergency food support is just the start of the relationship we build with those that need us most.
Here at North York Harvest, on top of distributing food to more than 25,000 people each month, we are dedicated to long term solutions to poverty and creating sustainable livelihoods.
That's why with the support from the Metcalf Foundation and The Learning Enrichment Foundation we have launched an exciting new program for individuals currently receiving Ontario Works. Aside from being a stepping stone in breaking the cycle of poverty, the program gives participants a chance to take charge of their own lives with the confidence and training to succeed in promising careers.
Together we are able to provide skills development and experience-based learning right here in the NYH warehouse! Students like Tammy are able to gain valuable technical skills and certifications in our operating environment - after all, we are the food distribution hub for more than 77 food programs in the city.
"Being a busy mom, I felt the program benefited me by giving me hands on work experience and training that was essential in coming back into the workforce." - Tammy.
This program is designed to propel graduates into careers in the warehousing and logistics sector. In fact, after Tammy graduated she became an instructor in the program paying it forward!
Recently we have just had the honour of graduating another 10 students of the program. This latest group of students is already off to having successful careers in the field with half of them already gaining employment while the others have exciting job interviews lined up!
"I learned that if I stick with anything I can finish it! Everyone here is so supportive!" says Mark, one of the recent graduates.
Saheed, another graduate also received some local fame, appearing in an article for the Toronto Star talking about how the program has given him a new opportunity in life.
The Leadership in Logistics program is one of the many ways that North York Harvest is working to make a difference in the lives of our community members!
We're currently looking for mentors and employers to get involved in helping those seeking meaningful employment through this incredible program!
Are you currently receiving Ontario Works and would like to join other Leadership in Logistics students in learning high demand skills and certifications? Contact us to Sign up here!
Each year North York Harvest Food Bank teams up with the Daily Bread Food Bank to release the annual “Who’s Hungry” report. It is a snapshot of food bank use in Toronto.
Surveys were conducted on a completely voluntary basis within participating food banks. 33 food banks participated and over 1400 surveys were used to create the report.
This report always releases staggering numbers and highlights the problem with food insecurity in our local community and the affect it has on our neighbours in Toronto.
Food Bank use in the Inner Suburbs has grown 68% since 2010
We have been seeing a major increase in visits to the North York Harvest Food Bank. Residents may be forced to leave the city core to find more affordable rent. Though being able to afford both rent and food is still out of reach for many.
The growth in the east end has increased dramatically. Food bank use in this area of the city has increased 30% compared to 4% or less in other parts of the city. Many of the residents there are newcomers, having fled due to international conflict or natural disasters – most paying around 82% of their income on rent alone.
“I HAVE COPED BY NOT EATING WELL OR SOMETIMES I DON’T EAT. ACTUALLY I DON’T EAT ABOUT ONCE A WEEK BECAUSE THERE ARE EXPENSES FOR MY ILLNESSES.” ~ SURVEY RESPONDENT
Social Assistance just isn’t enough anymore
The lack of sufficient income brings many people to food banks. The average monthly income for clients is just $816.50. For a city like Toronto that will not even pay for rent on a one bedroom apartment.
“I AM DEPRESSED, HAVE GAINED 50 POUNDS. I HAVE LOST FRIENDS AS I CANNOT AFFORD TO SOCIALIZE OR HAVE TTC FUNDS TO GO TO THEIR HOMES.” ~ SURVEY RESPONDENT
Usage of food banks by seniors has skyrocketed
Within just a year, food bank usage of people ages 65 and up has increased by 26.8%! It is also quite possible there is a higher need among seniors but many may not be able to attend the food bank due to barriers such as transportation or lack of physical ability.
22% of seniors have skipped meals for an entire day because they couldn’t afford to eat – for many of them, it happened almost every month. Many report using their small amounts of money on prescription medications. Lack of food can worsen any pre-existing health problems seniors may have.
Another reason that seniors are accessing the food bank more than ever is that many aren’t getting a boost to their income through the Guaranteed Income Supplement they may be entitled to receiving. The reason many are not receiving this benefit could be sheer lack of awareness, the difficulty in applying do to lack of technical support or language barriers.
There has been quite a lot of talk about basic income lately in the news. A basic income is a guarantee to Canadian families and individuals that they will be able to meet a minimum income level regardless of employment status.
This could mean big things for the hundreds of thousands of people in Toronto that struggle to make ends meet to pay for everyday needs such as rent, utilities, transit and food.
This has come up for a lot of debate among Canadians. It also raises a lot of questions about the impact on our communities and economy. In an effort to answer some of the most asked questions about basic income, I spoke with Elaine Power, co-founder of the Kingston Action Group for Basic Income Guarantee.
How do you think basic income will benefit the community?
If we had a basic income program that was available to all who needed it and a basic income program that effectively eliminated poverty, there could be dramatic benefits to the community. The research suggests that public health would improve and health care costs would drop. Eliminating poverty means that kids would have a better start in life, do better in school and have fairer chances in life, and this could also decrease crime rates over time.
If we take away the desperate need for people to find any kind of work that they can, it could liberate people to engage their passion and contribute to their communities through volunteer work and the arts, or to take risks, e.g., with a small business, that they wouldn’t otherwise do. When people have basic economic security, it enables them to dare to do new & different things.
I believe that a basic income program will help build social solidarity, to rebuild a sense of the collective, that we are part of neighbourhoods and communities.
How will this impact the economy & the taxpayer?
People who live in poverty spend their money on basic necessities, like food, shelter, clothing, activities for their kids. They won’t be taking their money out of the country for expensive vacations. That will have an economic multiplier effect, and could make a profound impact in smaller, more rural communities that are struggling.
Research shows that poverty has a high economic cost and that poverty reduction has a big return on investment. A report by the Ontario Association of Food Banks suggested “With the huge savings that could be achieved over time by reducing poverty and its burdensome social costs, the province could very likely pay for the need mix of policies without asking taxpayers for anything more.” The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has calculated that every dollar invested in reducing poverty would result in about a $2 return on investment. In other words, poverty reduction is at worst cost-neutral and likely would save money over time.
Do you feel as though there could be any negatives/drawbacks that come from having a basic income?
Well, the negatives or drawbacks depend on the type of basic income program that would get implemented. There are different models. Some on the political right would like to see the implementation of a basic income in order to reduce other government supports and services, like public housing. This would not improve the lives of people living in poverty or likely reduce poverty overall, because people would have to pay more of their income for what are now public services. We would not see the types of economic savings I mentioned above in that case.
I am a proponent of a progressive basic income that is part of rebuilding the social safety net, would improve the lives of people living in poverty and would result in dramatic reductions – or the virtual elimination – of poverty.
How will this affect the food bank and food bank users?
The best sign of the effectiveness of basic income or any poverty reduction/elimination strategy would be that food banks are able to close up because of lack of demand. Those who founded food banks back in the 1980’s thought that food banks were an “emergency” response to an economic downturn and that they would close once the economy improved. I have a report from a meeting of food banks in Toronto and area from 1991 that wrestles with the question of when and how Toronto food banks might close. An effective basic income would allow food bank users to acquire food like everyone else. They still might choose to attend hot meal programs, food skills programs, community gardens and community kitchens – but there will be more freedom and choice to do that, not a sense of dire need.
Is the proposed amount of $16,989 enough to get by for individuals?
Like social assistance, the problem with a fixed amount is that the cost of living varies quite a lot across the province – from Toronto to Windsor to northern Ontario. As I understand it, the rationale for making it less than the LICO ( low income cut-offs) or the LIM ( Low Income Measure) is that people will get other federal income transfers, like the GST credit. But I suppose part of the idea of the pilot is to assess if the amount is enough.
Others, like Guy Caron, who is a candidate in the federal NDP leadership race, has proposed a basic income that would be set using the Low Income Cut-off or LICO which is adjusted for city and family size.
What do you say about the idea from opposers that people will go on BI just to “stay home and be lazy”?
This is probably the most common oppositional response to the idea!!
If you ask people if they (personally) would just stay home, everyone says “of course not!.” The reality is that about 70% of people who live in poverty are working, which speaks to the inadequacy of minimum wages.
The reality is that any basic income, whether the Ontario pilot amount or an amount tied to the LICO, is not luxurious. Most people will want to seek paid employment to supplement their incomes. And most people work for reasons other than money.
And the other issue that this objection is based on is that the only work that is valuable is paid employment. We do all sorts of unpaid, unrecognized, invisible work at home and in our communities, including all the volunteer work that gets done for and at food banks. This is valuable and important work. What basic income will help us do is to decide where to put our time and energies in activities that are meaningful and important for us and for our communities. Some people may “stay home and be lazy” for a little while. Most people would not do that for very long – and if they do, perhaps they need other services to help them find meaningful activity.
The benefits of a progressive and effective basic income for those living in poverty and for our communities overshadow the objection that a small percentage of people might “stay home and be lazy.”
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit with the incredible volunteers and clients at the Bathurst Finch Community Food Space. Located in a tiny room inside Northview Heights Secondary School, the hustle and bustle of getting prepared for the upcoming drop in made the room buzz. Operating outside of school hours, volunteers make sure the shelves are stocked and fridges full to help community members put food on the table.
Elis, who manages the food space, treats everyone that enters like family. Everyone is in this together and a VIP in the eyes of the caring volunteers.
One of the VIP clients using the food bank is Anna. Anna has been living in Canada for 11 years after leaving Uzbekistan because she was unable to find work.
After working 9 years at local Russian grocery stores, Anna had a child named Nikita and found herself out of work in order to take care of him each day. She had to go on social assistance but unfortunately that wasn’t enough to cover all of her expenses from rent and utilities to food and baby supplies. She was in a bind.
While searching for a way to get baby powder and baby food, Anna came to the Bathurst Finch Community Food Space. When she arrived, the helpful volunteers let her know that not only she could receive baby products, but she was also given food for herself. Anna was amazed by the kindness and generosity that was located right in her neighbourhood. She has been coming to the food bank for the past year now which has helped her stretch her small income.
To get to the food bank, Anna walks with Nikita in his stroller. During the harsh winter months, she was unable to take her stroller through the icy and snowy sidewalks and had no way to access the food bank. Thomas, a volunteer, took the time to drop off food to her home for three months so Anna and Nikita wouldn’t have to go without. “It was amazing that someone was willing to come and help us out when we couldn’t get around,” says Anna, “the food bank volunteers are wonderful!”
After Anna’s father passed away, her mother is still living in Uzbekistan alone. Anna hopes that her mother will be able to join her in Canada so they can be together again. “If she comes to stay with me, she’ll be able to help take care of Nikita so I can go back to school and get a full time job,” says Anna who dreams of becoming a paralegal one day to support her family.
Anna would recommend that anyone who needs help in her neighbourhood visit the Bathurst Finch Community Food Space. “They are so caring and have been so helpful to Nikita and myself. If someone is in need of help they will bring you in and treat you like family.”
At the Bathurst Finch Community Food Space, it is about more than just putting food on the table, it’s about bringing family to that table.
One everyday hero located right in your community is Kayla*. I recently had the opportunity to meet Kayla at the North York Harvest Annual General Meeting back in February. We were in a workshop together and she shared her experiences as a food bank volunteer. I needed to hear more so I could share her story with you.
Kayla has been a volunteer at her local food bank for more than two years dedicating her time six days per week. This is quite incredible as Kayla suffers from many health issues such as a degenerative disk disease in her back, panic attacks, insomnia and is waiting to have knee surgery. This doesn’t stop our hero though; she chooses to work through the pain to make a difference in the lives of her neighbours in need. “If I could have sleepovers here I would!” jokes Kayla.
Kayla’s tasks at the food bank include receiving deliveries, stocking shelves, serving clients and records management. She even packs and delivers food hampers for the “Fresh Start” program that does home deliveries for seniors as well as those unable to physically make it to the food bank.The services she and her other fellow volunteers provide benefit children, families, seniors, those with disabilities and people who can’t leave their home.
A typical food hamper from a NYH food bank
Regardless of Kayla’s health problems, she feels that giving her time at the food bank gives her something else to focus on and a purpose. She strives to make a difference in the lives of her fellow neighbours. This can be done through her daily food bank tasks or even going above and beyond to help someone in need. One particular story of Kayla’s is a time that she was able to assist a client with her job search. The client had needed to know CPR in order to be eligible for a job but could not afford the training. Kayla took the time to research and found a course that was offered for free.
Kayla told me that seeing a smile on the face of someone she has helped is so rewarding in her work.
It absolutely blows me away when I see this kind of dedication from volunteers. And it is throughout the network! Each day volunteers take time out of their day to come in and help their neighbours meet their food needs.
Without your support, we wouldn’t be able to have incredible stories like this to share.From you to me, me to Kayla, Kayla to the client and back to you again – we are really part of something bigger than ourselves. I feel that being able to share these stories truly closes the circle of connectivity in our community
Join Kayla in being a community hero!
Together we all work as a community to make a difference for more than 15,000 people that access these types of programs each month!
Many things have changed to improve our lives over the past 20 years. In the 90’s cell phones were most regularly seen on television, and even then they were huge and clunky. Video calls, now an every day occurrence, were the stuff of science fiction movies. We’ve made progress on a lot of fronts, but sadly, dealing with poverty is not one of them.
Ontario just released Budget 2017 – A balanced budget for a stronger, healthier Ontario, which includes new measures to support low income individuals in our province, such as universal drug coverage for youth, a basic income pilot project and a 2% increase in social assistance rates. These are welcome developments to be sure, but still fall far short of addressing the challenges faced by people living in poverty.
As we all know, the cost of living, especially in Toronto, has skyrocketed over the past 20 years. Housing, energy, transportation and food costs have all risen dramatically. But our social safety net has not only not kept pace, it’s lagged shockingly behind.
In 1993 a single person receiving benefits from Ontario Works received $663 per month, or $1,010 in today’s dollars. Today, that rate is just over $700. Imagine trying to live in the city of Toronto for $700 per month. The combination of higher costs of living and decreased levels of social assistance drive people into chronic, grinding poverty, and force them to make tough choices, like pay the rent or feed their families.
We know that food insecurity is not caused by a lack of food, but insufficient money with which to purchase food. It’s made worse by other public policy deficiencies, such as lack of affordable housing, lack of affordable childcare, and a meagre minimum wage.
Social assistance in the past has been put into place to help prevent people from falling into chronic poverty during tough times due to something such as a job loss, serious illness or disability. This is causing many to make tough choices with their limited resources. Most spend 70-80% of their money on rent alone. After paying non flexible bills such as rent and utilities, people on these programs are left with just $7.91 per day to pay for necessities such as food, childcare or transit fare. Many people in this position make the choice to forgo a meal just to get by.
Our policy choices in these areas are not without their costs. When people can’t afford to live healthy, dignified lives, we all pay the price in lost human potential, intergenerational poverty, higher health care costs and poverty-related crime. In a recent report, Social Planning Toronto pegs the cost of poverty in our city at $5.5 billion per year.
The time to change the conversation about poverty in our communities is long overdue. Let’s take this time to reflect on the kind of communities we want to live in. Let’s ask ourselves what kind of lives we want for ourselves and our fellow citizens. And let’s make our voices heard.