Initially developed in the US, the food bank concept was first successfully developed on a large scale in Canada by the Edmonton Gleaners Association (incorporated on 16 January 1981). The initial impetus for the development of food banks was the clear evidence of unmet needs in the community, which exist largely because of limitations or failings in social service systems. This provided the primary motivation for churches and agencies to undertake the provision of direct, emergency food services to private homes. Another major function of food banks is the supplementing of institutional feeding or kitchen programs with "salvageable," or "surplus," food collected from manufacturers, grocers, retailers and wholesalers. Public canned-food drives and food purchased through donated funds account for the rest.
Funding for food banks varies greatly from city to city. Some major food banks have accepted government support; however, food banks often decline government funding, preferring to operate on publicly donated funds rather than becoming an established part of a government structure. Others receive support from their local "United Way" fund-raising organizations (eg, Edmonton, Montréal, Ottawa). Food banks, by and large, proclaim themselves to be voluntary, "short-term emergency" responses to the problem of hunger, and call upon governments and other established agencies to develop co-ordinated strategies to deal with the problem in the longer term. Some food banks have played a key role in highlighting major problems and openly advocating improvements.
Conferences held in Edmonton (1985) and Toronto (1986) led to the establishment of a national organization, Canadian Association of Food Banks (now Food Banks Canada). Forty-three food banks from across the country made up the original membership of the association in 1989. Its membership has since risen to some 450.
Who Uses Food Banks
Each year since 1989, Food Banks Canada has released HungerCount, a national survey of food bank use in Canada. The 3 largest groups are people receiving social assistance, disabled individuals and the working poor. Hunger is not just the reality of people living in Canada's cities; about half of the food banks participating in the HungerCount are located in rural areas (in communities of 10 000 or less). More than 50% of assisted households have children; about one third of food bank clients are children.
Author BRIAN BECHTEL
Anna Maria Kirbyson, ed, Recipes for Success: A Celebration of Food Security Work in Canada (2005); Graham Riches, Food Banks and the Welfare Crisis (1986); Candace Weimar, Bridging the Gap from Poverty to Independence: What is the Role of Canadian Food Banks? (2009).
Links to Other Sites
Food Banks Canada
The website for Food Banks Canada, an umbrella organization representing approximately 250 food banks across every Canadian province and territory. Features statistics on hunger in Canada and more.
Social and Economic Factors that Influence Our Health and Contribute to Health Inequalities
Scroll down the page for a brief overview of food-related factors that influence the state of health of Canadians. From "The Chief Public Health Officer's Report on The State of Public Health in Canada 2008."
Recipes for Success
See a synopsis of the book "Recipes for Success," a review of the growth of the food security movement in Canada. Also includes an online excerpt from the book. From Fernwood Publishing.
Bridging the gap from poverty to independence
See an online copy of a report about the evolving role of food banks in contemporary Canadian society. From the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.