North Okanagan realtors help fill food bank void

The 40th annual North Okanagan Realtors Food Drive will be held Wednesday at 5 p.m.

  • Nov. 29, 2017 3:19 p.m.

UPDATE:

Realtors will be collecting donations in Vernon tonight, starting at 5 p.m.

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While many of us have the freedom to dine out once and a while, thousands of Canadians can barely afford to eat in.

Instead of deciding whether to order chicken or beef, Food Banks Canada’s recent HungerCount says many are having to decide between buying groceries or paying rent.

The count, which has been performed annually since 1999, provides a snapshot of how many Canadians are relying on food banks each year. According to the annual national report, 863,492 people across Canada accessed a food bank in March 2016 — 10,000 more than in March 2015.

Watch Food Banks Canada’s Hunger Count video here

In Vernon, Lt. Stefan Reid, executive director of the Salvation Army, said the food bank assists more than 1,100 people each month. About 32 per cent of those are youth and children under the age of 18. And Reid says he doesn’t see those numbers going down anytime soon.

Fortunately, each year realtors across the North Okanagan rally to help restock the Salvation Army’s shelves when they roll out their annual food drive in December.

“This one’s a big one for Vernon,” Reid said. “If it wasn’t for the realtors and their hard work that they put in each year, I believe our food bank would suffer greatly.”

This year, the drive takes place in Greater Vernon, Armstrong and Enderby Wednesday, Dec. 6, starting at 5 p.m.

Armstrong will be out collecting food Wednesday for the Boys and Girls Club. Those collected in Enderby will go to the Feed Enderby and District Food Bank. Lumby will not be collecting food, but if anyone has donations they can be dropped off at any real estate offices in Lumby.

Items suggested for donation include proteins such as canned tuna and peanut butter, but donors are encouraged to check the expiration date of items that they wish to donate.

Other much needed items include,canned milk, coffee (regular and decaf), dish soap, laundry soap, foil/plastic wrap, cleaner, hand soap, shampoo/conditioner, toothbrush/toothpaste, body wash, razors, paper towels and feminine products.

Reid said the effort is crucial to the Salvation Army food bank’s survival each year.

After the Thanksgiving rush, Reid said supplies tend to run low, but the realtors’ food drive keeps the food bank above water until well into the spring. That was especially important this year when the need surged as a result of the wildfires this summer.

In recognition of their 40th year holding the drive, organizer Dawn Taylor said she and her fellow realtors are aiming to collect 40,000 pounds of food.

This “ambitious” goal was born not only of her faith in people’s generousity, but the persistent need to fill the local food bank’s shelves.

“I think when the drive started 40 years ago, we thought by now we wouldn’t need to do it anymore because less people would need to use the food bank, but I think we actually need it more now,” Taylor said.

The HungerCount reports that the “high need” Reid and Taylor noted is widespread, with eight out of ten provinces experiencing a hike in food bank usage, with Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia showing a drastic increase of more than 17 per cent. In British Columbia 103,464 individuals were assisted by food banks in 2016, up from 100,086 in 2015.

Reid said the consistently high need in Vernon stems from alack of affordable housing and an inadequate safety net for those who are unemployed and under employed.

This is reflected in the fact that seven per cent of households helped by food banks have no income at all. They are accessing assistance while they wait for their first paycheque from a new job, or the first deposit from Employment Insurance or social assistance. A further 15 per cent of households helped are currently or recently employed – receiving a = paycheque or on Employment Insurance, yet still unable to make ends meet.

Quick Facts:

• 45 per cent of households assisted are on social assistance.

• 18 per cent receive disability-related income supports.

• Eight per cent receive the majority of their income from a pension.

From a national standpoint, the HungerCount reveals that these same issues are magnified, with a large number of households accessing food banks on some form of government assistance, including pension, in reciept of unemployment insurance or disability-related income supports. On the other side of the coin, it continues, nearly one in six households helped are working, yet still need a food bank to make ends meet.

The HungerCount report puts forward a number of policy recommendations to reduce the need for food banks, under four broad themes:

Beyond the dozens of participating local realtors, the food drive involves volunteers from local financial institutions and the North Okanagan branch of the Early Childhood Educators of B.C.

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