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BRAUN: School’s out! And kids go hungry

Every month in Canada more than a million people need to use a food bank.

And nearly 400,000 are children.

When school lets out in June, those kids will be even hungrier once they lose access to a breakfast club, a lunch plan or whatever other food program their school might provide.

On May 15, After The Bell — a child hunger reduction program — will address this situation with its annual food pack drive, where 1,000 volunteers take over a huge warehouse and put together 100,000 healthy food packs for children in high-need communities.

The food packs will top-up food banks across Canada in preparation for the lean summer months.

After The Bell is an initiative of Food Banks Canada. The food pack program started in 2015 with 700 food packs shipped coast to coast, and it has grown every year.

Last year, when Food Banks Canada got a new CEO in Christopher Hatch, the food pack program had grown to 69,000 units.

Hatch wanted to do better and decided 100,000 food packs should be the goal — so volunteers and corporate sponsors took up the challenge.

Chris Hatch, CEO of Food Banks Canada at his office in Mississauga, Ont. on Monday May 6, 2019. Ernest Doroszuk / Toronto Sun

Hatch, a former HR executive, came to Food Banks Canada after nine years as Executive Director at the Mississauga Food Bank.

For his volunteer work and service to the community, he’s a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal.

He offered some startling statistics.

“Roughly 4 million people live with food insecurity in Canada. There are 1.1 million visits to food banks every month,” he said.

“People don’t realize the hunger challenges we have in this country.”

The network he oversees consists of 10 provincial food bank associations (it’s called Feed Ontario here) and 650 food banks that fall under those provincial banners; there are another 2,000 food banks that stem from these.

The bottom line is poverty.

The gap between haves and have-nots is growing, and while many Canadians are going hungry, others waste $30 billion in food a year.

“People are either buying too much or not eating what they buy, and throwing it away. We do everything we can to redirect that food — at the farm level, at the manufacturing level, at the grocery store level and at the household level, to try to get it to people who can use that food,” Hatch said.

Food Banks Canada advocates nationally for two things — research on a basic income, to find out if it’s a solution to poverty, and subsidized daycare, which has obvious benefits long-term.

“In Quebec, they have subsidized daycare and child care and they have some of the lowest child poverty rates in the country,” Hatch said.

When Food Pack Day rolls around this week, it will do more than just supply much-needed food for kids. It will call attention to the problem of child hunger in Canada. Kids are 20% of the population, but account for 35% of food bank use.

And summer is a particularly tough time.

“School’s over, so kids have no access to the school food programs. It all comes to a screeching halt in June,” Hatch said.

“Couple that with the fact that the summer months are the toughest months for food banks in Canada — food supplies, contributions and volunteer numbers are all down.”

The food packs being shipped May 15 will include organic milk, oatmeal, hummus, cereal and similar products. Each pack also comes with a $2 donation so food banks can add local fruit or vegetables.

Meanwhile, even as they try to affect change, Food Banks Canada feeds people in need and runs extensive programs such as cooking classes for kids Last year they distributed $75 million and 25 million pounds of food across Canada.

Hatch is pleased with the valuable work done by the corporate sponsors who support Food Banks Canada with food, money and volunteer time.

What can individuals do?

“There’s a food bank in every community in this country. Reach out and find out how you can help them,” Hatch said.

“Volunteer time, make a donation, organize a food drive. I guarantee you there’s a food bank in your community that could use your support.”

“Go out and find them!” he added.

lbraun@postmedia.com

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