Food banks a 'smoke screen' for other poverty issues
Published Sunday, July 31, 2011 9:56PM EDT
Every month thousands of hungry Canadians pick up hampers of groceries at their local food bank, but now the effectiveness of the social program is being questioned by a university professor who says food banks do nothing to alleviate poverty.
Elaine Power, an associate professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., said she thinks food banks across the country should close because they can't address poverty or solve hunger.
"It seems that food banks have thrown up this smoke screen that leads the rest of us to believe that the problem is being taken care of," Power told CTV News Channel on Sunday.
Power, who has served as a food bank board member, thinks that the banks are merely a Band-Aid solution to poverty.
"We know that food banks are very limited by the supply of food," she said. "Not everyone who needs it gets to use it and even those who get to go have severe limitations on the amount of food that they can get and the number of times they can go."
According to Food Banks Canada, nearly 900,000 Canadians use a local food bank every month.
The organization's executive director, Katharine Schmidt, said she thinks it's unacceptable that so many rely on the program in a country as prosperous as Canada.
But Schmidt said food banks are necessary to help the three million Canadians who live in poverty meet nutritional needs.
"Our mandate is to reduce hunger through that short-term need for food on a day-to-day basis and looking for long-term solutions," she said. "Hunger and poverty hasn't been resolved in this country."
Food banks were first created as a temporary solution to address hunger during the recession of the 1980s. Now there are more than 900 facilities across the country and about 2,900 affiliated agencies, according to Food Banks Canada.
Schmidt said that 42 per cent of food banks also offer other types of services, such as budgeting and nutrition education, employment training and community kitchens.
"Food banks are doing a lot more than handing people that food that they absolutely do need," she said.
Power, however, said the food banks only scratch the surface of helping those who need it the most while the government is being left off the hook.
"The stats show that for every one person who uses the food bank there are another three people who never even get to the food bank," she said.
"Charities, food banks, communities all across the country, I'm astounded and very grateful for the work they've been doing, it's just too big. It's unfair to ask them to do this job."