For many Toronto children, summer is a time for savory barbecues and fun-filled picnics. You yourself may be lucky enough to enjoy a holiday getaway with your friends and family this summer.
But right now families in your community need your support more than ever.
Many children from low-income families depend on food programs at their schools for lunch or breakfast. Sadly, in the summer months, these kids go without many of these important meals.
This time of year is even more difficult for working families who also have to pay for daycare (when the children are not in school).
The reality is . . . families in our community struggle even harder to put food on the table during the summer.
There are over 16,000 people who must use the food bank every month. 40% of these people are children.
Almost two thirds of the children who rely on North York Harvest Food Bank every month are under the age of 11. That means that of the 6,000 children going hungry every month – close to 4,000 children under 11 are without food.
But together we can make a huge difference in the lives of people in your community that struggle to put food on the table.
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!
Comments Off on Setting the Table – The Power of a Meal
A message from Aniska Ali, North York Harvest’s New Director of Development and Marketing
As Thanksgiving approaches, I, like many of you, am preparing to welcome family and friends to my home. Pumpkin printed napkins have been fished out of storage containers, recipes have been bookmarked, and shopping lists have been made. My daughter has been collecting leaves for weeks for our table’s centerpiece, her part of our family’s annual tradition. On Monday, she’ll help set the table, and I’ll fuss in the kitchen, bickering with my husband and my sister about how much sage to add to the stuffing and how frequently to baste the turkey. These are our rituals, these are the acts that make Thanksgiving familiar and special – these are things I’ll remember as time goes by.
Food is a big part of my life. Talking about the power of it, and sadly, the lack of it for so many in our community fills my days. What often gets lost in our rush to make sure there’s enough is an understanding of the role food plays in uniting us. The sharing and enjoyment of a meal is a simple, but profound, pleasure that brings us together, across cultures, ages and backgrounds. Eating together is, and should be, a daily experience of connection.
Unfortunately that is simply not the case for the 15,000 people we serve each month. Skyrocketing housing prices, precarious employment and social assistance rates that have failed to keep up with the cost of the living put the joy food brings out of reach for so many of our neighbours. Sadly, we know all too well that loneliness and isolation go hand in hand with living in poverty.
That’s why North York Harvest offers programs like community kitchens to give people in our neighbourhood a chance to meet friends, cook together, and share a meal in a welcoming place.
As Maudlyn, one of our members and a retired caterer told us recently, “This program is a commitment to myself. It gets me out of the house to socialize with others. My favourite part is actually setting the table, it feels like we are having a real family meal”.
Thank you for making stories like Maudlyn’s possible. Thank you for believing as we do that, everyone deserves a safe place where they can meet people, build friendships, feel included and eat delicious food regardless of their income. Thank you for investing in programs like these that make North York Harvest so much more than a food bank. We hope you know just how much your support means to us and the community we serve.
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.