Food Insecurity In Calgary

When the Calgary Foundation released its Vital Signs Report earlier this month, most grades pointed to Calgary doing well. But there was one section that had some less than positive numbers. The report indicates that food insecurity is rising in Alberta. Food insecurity is inadequate or insecure access to food…

When the Calgary Foundation released its Vital Signs Report earlier this month, most grades pointed to Calgary doing well. But there was one section that had some less than positive numbers.

The report indicates that food insecurity is rising in Alberta. Food insecurity is inadequate or insecure access to food because of financial constraints. Accompanying growing food insecurity was an increase in the number of food bank visits. Here is the breakdown of those statistics.

12.3 per cent of Alberta households experienced food shortage due to financial constraints in 2011.

That is the highest rate since 2005.

25 per cent of food insecure households use food banks.

7.95 million kg of food valued at $43 million was distributed by the Calgary Food Bank between September 2012 and June 2013.

That was up from 7.8 million kg of food valued at $32 million the previous year.

136,000 clients visited the Calgary Food Bank between September 2012 and June 2013.

More than 100 charities partner with the food bank to distribute food.

52 per cent is the increase in client visits since the start of the recession in 2008.

35 per cent of households requesting hampers include at least one employed person.

43 per cent of clients are children.

$89,490 was the average family income in 2010.

$45,090 was the average single-parent family income in 2010.

23.5 per cent of single-parent families fell below the poverty line.

The largest increase in food bank usage has been the direct result of the recession with client visits doubling since 2008. That was the beginning of the current upward trend and the time of the sharpest increase.

“Before we had been seeing people living on the edge. They were one paycheque away from whatever disaster was going to befall them and that’s what happened,” says Calgary Food Bank president and CEO James McAra. “Everybody took a hit at the same time.”

The increases hit all segments of Calgary’s population including seniors, the working poor and children in relatively equal proportions.

“All the pieces actually move up together and they move down together so we know that whatever’s happening it’s systemic and it’s affecting all people equally rather than a target hit on one particular area,” said McAra.

The primary cause of food insecurity is poverty with the most at risk groups including aboriginals, those who do not own their own homes, the disabled, the unemployed and single-parent families (who earn on average $44,400 less per year than dual-parent families). The largest group of food bank users are the working poor.

“It’s a fallacy to consider that the only people who get minimum wage are like 17-year-old or 18-year-old kids,” said Lynn McIntyre a professor of community health sciences at the University of Calgary and co-investigator on the PROOF research project on food insecurity. “In fact there are a great number of dual earner families that can’t make it on minimum wage.”

The Vital Signs Report points to the growing gap between the highest and lowest income brackets as something that needs to be improved.

“While overall we may be doing well economically those that are left behind are getting farther and farther behind,” said McIntyre. “We see that many people that are working full-time are food insecure just because their income is too low to be able to afford the housing which is more expensive here.”

And, none of that factors in the recent floods. The numbers in the Vital Signs report end in June 2013 but don’t reflect the long-term impacts of the flood on food bank demand – the flood hit on June 21. In the immediate aftermath, most food was distributed through agencies that partner with the Food Bank. Since many were displaced and had nowhere to put food they didn’t seek out food hampers.

It will be in the months following the flood that the effects on food security become more apparent. One of the largest risks is that individuals may have drained their savings to deal with the aftermath of the flood and the financial strains of being displaced from their homes.

For information on how you can help the Calgary Food Bank meet increasing demand, visit calgaryfoodbank.com

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