Since Canada’s first food bank opened in Edmonton in 1981, they have regrettably become more prevalent and necessary in Canadian cities. As of the year 2000, there were more than 600 food banks and over 2200 additional agencies working in the food assistance field. In Inventory of Hunger Programs in Saskatoon, Joanne Bowditch conducted an initial examination of the Saskatoon Food Bank and other organizations that provide food to the needy, as well as explores the source of food donations.
Saskatoon Food Bank statistics indicate that the number of food requests have risen steadily since1985. Between 1985 and 1995, the average yearly requests numbered over 28,000. From 1995 to 2000, however, this number rose from approximately 42,500 to 45,750. New food requests also rose markedly in the same period. The extent of the hunger crisis is illustrated by a Toronto food bank study that found that 14% of recipients in 1995 were college graduates, a figure that rose to 25% in 2000. Nevertheless, the most vulnerable members of society—single mothers, Aboriginal people, the unemployed, refugees, and those with disabilities—remain the most frequent users of food assistance programs.
Food banks rely on donations of surplus food from restaurants, grocery wholesalers and retailers, egg, milk, fruit, and vegetable producers, and private organizations that conduct periodic food drives. Some organizations—notably church and religious groups—conduct specific food collection campaigns at particular times of the year, such as Christmas and Easter. The Canadian Association of Food Banks was formed to more efficiently collect and distribute donations from major food industry members. In addition to food donations, food banks and other like-minded organizations rely heavily on volunteers donating both labour and money. From 1996 to 2000, the amount of food, volunteer labour, and money donated to the Saskatoon Food Bank has steadily increased. In that five year period, food donation increased from over 582,000 kilograms to almost 739,000 kilograms and volunteer hours from 8,138 to almost 16,000. A monetary donation comparison in that five-year period was unavailable, but contributions from businesses and religious organizations increased markedly from 1999 to 2000.
This report is only a preliminary exploration into Saskatoon’s food assistance programs, but Bowditch was surprised by the high number of volunteered hours, especially given that she was unable to include the efforts of religious and spiritual organizations. As a first step, this report establishes some valuable findings and will be of assistance to others wishing to further examine Saskatoon’s food assistance programs.