Canadian food bank use is 25 per cent higher than it was before the global recession, with more than 840,000 people receiving donated food in March, according to a new report.

According to Food Banks Canada’s annual HungerCount report, food bank use increased by one per cent in March, compared to the same period in 2013. But use of the service is 25 per cent higher than in 2008, just before the recession decimated the job market and home ownership rates across North America.

The latest figures show that 37 per cent of food bank users are children. Nearly half of households that use food banks are families with children and of those, close to half are two-parent families. Forty-three per cent of food bank users are single people who live alone.

The HungerCount report also notes that 87,533 people sought help at a food bank for the first time in March of this year. More than 14 million visits will be made to Canadian food banks this year.

Food bank use increased in six of 10 provinces this year. Saskatchewan had the biggest increase since 2013, at 19.4 per cent, while Atlantic provinces like Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island were among those that saw a dip in food bank use.

Since 2008, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba saw the biggest increases in food bank use, ranging from 48 per cent to 52 per cent.

Katharine Schmidt, the executive director of Food Banks Canada, attributed the rates of food bank use to a lack of well-paying jobs and inadequate social programs for those who have fallen on hard times.

“Hundreds of thousands of Canadians are working in low-paid jobs because better ones aren’t available, or because they simply don’t have the skills to qualify for the well-paying jobs,” she said Tuesday.

Schmidt added that, in many cases, social assistance cheques “just don’t pay the bills.” Food Banks Canada says social assistance benefits have not increased with the cost of living “for about 20 years.”

Still, the HungerCount report notes: “While the level of food bank use clearly evolves in response to larger economic factors like unemployment, the number of people receiving food assistance in Canada has not dropped below 700,000 per month for the better part of the past 15 years.”

The report makes a number of recommendations, including that the federal government replace “the current alphabet soup” of child tax benefits (including the Canada Child Tax Benefit, Universal Child Care Benefit and Children’s Fitness Tax Credit) with a new “child well-being benefit” that would help vulnerable families.

The report also calls on federal and provincial government to invest in regulated child care, affordable housing and more education and training programs.