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'When are we going to say enough is enough?': Food banks urge longer-term solutions as holiday rush begins


Dropping off a case of canned soup and a shopping bag filled with toothbrushes and other items Monday, Margaret Murray has become a familiar face at Feed Nova Scotia in Dartmouth.

She's got a method to her generosity: she watches for sales, and stocks up on items to give away to the less-fortunate.

"A lot of times, people who don't have a lot of money, they don't have the opportunity to go around and shop the sales," said Murray.

Though donations generally drop off at this time of year, the need has exploded, especially in the current economy.

More than 5,300 households have so far reached out to Feed Nova Scotia for help with Christmas, and the agency is seeing an average of 300 new clients every week.

"If you don't like the fact that 100,000 Nova Scotians are food insecure, then I would make a call," said executive director Nick Jennery.

"Go to your MLA and say, 'What's the plan?' Quite, simply, 'what's the plan?’” said Jennery.

It's a message that's getting more blunt from those on the front-lines of hunger.

Although we've come to depend on food banks, they were never meant to be permanent: they were a temporary solution to a recession in the early 80s.

The non-profit Food First NL hosted a conference about it on the weekend.

The executive director admits the push for donations at this time of year always leaves him feeling "conflicted."

"When we talk sometimes about hunger, about food insecurity, people think the solution is food, and food charity and it isn't. We know that -- the data's really clear," said Food First NL executive director Josh Smee from St. John's, N.L.

"What we know is, if we don't give people enough, they can't actually get out of that system," said Christine Saulnier, Nova Scotia director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

"Forty per cent of food bank users in Nova Scotia are on income assistance. We know that income assistance is well below the poverty line," said Saulnier.

Back at Feed Nova Scotia, where 20,000 pounds of food is shipped out every day, visitors like Margaret Murray are deeply-appreciated for their generosity.

"I can't imagine what it costs....what people are doing," said Murray, shaking her head.

"Well, she's exceptional, but there's also quite a few 'Margarets' out there, and when they walk in through the door, they are the reason why we do what we do," said Jennery, relating a story that illustrates the challenges people are facing.

"We had a call last week: somebody calling in, 'Can you do a Christmas dinner?' And we said, 'Yes, we have this program and whereby we support about 700 households for Christmas.’”

"And he said, 'Well, just one problem: I live in a tent. So, I've got no way of cooking. Don't give me a turkey because I can't cook it.”

"And you think, 'When are we going to say 'enough is enough?'" Top Stories

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