Lethbridge Herald OpinionJohn van Hengel was a soup-kitchen volunteer in Phoenix, Ariz., in the mid-1960s when he thought there must be a better way to help those who didn't have enough to eat.Van Hengel noted, "The poor we will always have among us, but why the hungry?" So, van Hengel came up with the concept for what is considered to be the world's first food bank.Canada's first food bank followed in 1981 in Edmonton. Today, there are more than 700 food banks in Canada, assisting close to 900,000 Canadians each month.
Lethbridge Herald OpinionJohn van Hengel was a soup-kitchen volunteer in Phoenix, Ariz., in the mid-1960s when he thought there must be a better way to help those who didn't have enough to eat.Van Hengel noted, "The poor we will always have among us, but why the hungry?" So, van Hengel came up with the concept for what is considered to be the world's first food bank.Canada's first food bank followed in 1981 in Edmonton. Today, there are more than 700 food banks in Canada, assisting close to 900,000 Canadians each month.The disconcerting aspect is that reliance on food banks is increasing, and it isn't only the unemployed who need such help. The segment of the population dubbed "the working poor" are increasingly having to turn to food banks in order to feed their families.Statistics from Food Banks Canada's national survey, "Hunger Count 2011," indicate that each month, 93,000 people make use of a food bank in Canada for the first time.In a story in Sunday's Lethbridge Herald, Tonya Woolford, executive director of the Lethbridge Food Bank, noted, "Most of our clients are actually working poor - people that have jobs, but they just don't make enough to cover all of their expenses.""Sometimes life happens," said Woolford. "Your car breaks down or you have to go to the dentist and you don't have coverage, those kinds of things take a big chunk out of your budget and you can't pay for everything so you would come to the food bank in those circumstances."Lethbridge's Interfaith Food Bank is seeing a similar effect."The cost of living is far exceeding the wages that we are paying people in Alberta," said Interfaith executive director Danielle McIntyre. "We, especially in Lethbridge, are very much a minimum wage town and unfortunately it just is not a living wage and so we're seeing a lot more employed people coming down to the food bank."Three years after the 2008 recession, food bank use in Canada remains near record levels. Over the past three years, Alberta has seen a 75 per cent climb in the number of people using food banks, and there's no sign of the use easing.One of the major problems is that Alberta's $9.40 minimum wage, the lowest in the country, is simply not a sufficient living wage, say advocates such as Public Interest Alberta. Those who serve alcohol earn an even lower minimum, $9.05 an hour, because tips are factored into their income.More than 20,000 Albertans earn the minimum wage and Public Interest Alberta says more than 234,000 Albertans in total earn less than $12 an hour, which is just below the poverty line for an individual working full time.Alberta raised the minimum wage earlier this fall and, in doing so, took into consideration the effect a higher minimum wage would have on businesses. But that minimum doesn't seem to be sufficient for many families to live on, judging from the increasing reliance on food banks.The numbers are cause for concern. The Hunger Count survey found that 18 per cent of food bank clients have income from current or recent employment, but that income isn't enough to make ends meet.As demand increases, it's becoming harder for food banks to keep up. Thirty-five per cent of food banks ran out of food during the survey period and 55 per cent have had to cut back on the amount of food they provide to each household.The Christmas season is approaching but there could be little holiday cheer for many families in Lethbridge and area. The food banks are doing their best but are overwhelmed by the demand.Premier Alison Redford said earlier this month the province will re-examine its minimum wage. She noted if the wage is too high, it could work to the detriment of business, and that's a reasonable concern.But if Albertans are going hungry, that should be a concern, too.This editorial was published in the Lethrbridge Herald on November 15, 2011. Read the full editorial on the Lethbridge Herald website.