In 2017, the Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB) will turn 25 years old. We are deeply proud of the role our network has played over the past quarter century to support communities across Ontario. Food banks have grown from being a resource for emergency food support to multi-service centres that offer innovative programs to help clients move beyond hard times.

This anniversary is also cause for sober reflection. Food bank use has remained stubbornly high, especially since the 2008 recession. While food banks are proud to serve their communities, they do wish there was no need for their services.

Food banks work extremely hard to provide both short and long-term solutions to hunger, including cooking classes, accredited training programs, resume-writing workshops and job fairs. Yet ultimately, these programs do not parallel what could be achieved through good public policy.

If we want to achieve our vision of a hunger-free Ontario, we must collectively act to make this a reality. This is why we are launching our first-ever Hunger Action Month this September.

Hunger Action Month has two main goals: to start important conversations with the Ontario government around the policy changes necessary to reduce the need for food banks, and to spur action in the people of Ontario to fight hunger in their communities.

Food banks across the province will be hosting their local MPPs at simultaneous food sort events on September 16 so that our representatives can see first-hand the important work being done by Ontario’s food banks. On September 21, we will be following this up with a Day of Action at Queen’s Park, where leaders from our food banks will meet with MPPs, Ministers and their staff to discuss how to take action on hunger. The OAFB has three primary recommendations for change. These are:

1) Improve social assistance rates to match pre-1993 levels: In the ’90s, the Ontario government slashed social assistance rates by 21.6 per cent Link opens a new window. Despite increases over the years, the level of support provided by Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program today is still significantly lower than pre-1993 levels, and inadequate in helping recipients meet even their most basic expenses. Ontario Works, for example, only provides $681 per month to a single person. In 1993, they would have received $663 per month.

As the cost of living has increased 45 per cent since 1993, social assistance rates should be — at minimum — raised to pre-budget cut levels, which would be approximately $962 per month for a single person today.

2) Increase access to affordable housing: The average food bank client spends70 per cent of their income on housing, putting them at high risk of homelessness and leaving very little for bills and other expenses. At the same time, the wait list for affordable housing in Ontario is four years long Link opens a new window.

We are asking for a portable housing benefit Link opens a new window that gears rent to income and is given directly to Ontarians in need, making affordable housing far more accessible to those who need it most.

3) Develop, launch and monitor a Basic Income Pilot: In the Ontario government’s latest budget, they made mention of a Basic Income Pilot project in 2017 Link opens a new window. We think this is a very encouraging sign, as social assistance is in great need of reform and Basic Income has the potential to address many of the issues in the system. We will be strongly encouraging the government to make good on their promise and monitoring the progress of the pilot.

During Hunger Action Month, we will also be encouraging everyone in Ontario to educate, advocate, volunteer and donate to fight hunger in their communities.

Educate: Take time to learn about hunger and poverty in your community, and what you can do to help! Consider starting a conversation about hunger: at the dinner table, around the water cooler, and over social media, and discussing the role each of us can play in addressing it in our communities, province and country.

Advocate: There are now so many ways to get in contact with your local representatives! Start with a call or sending a letter! You can also email, use social media, sign online petitions, visit their constituency office, or attend community meetings. Ask them what they are doing to address poverty, precarious work, and unaffordable housing.

Volunteer: There are many ways you can lend your time and talents to alleviate hunger in your community! Each organization’s needs are different, so contact your local food bank and inquire about how you can help. This could be anything from getting your co-workers together to do a group food sort, using your specialized skills and knowledge to help specific projects, or organizing a food or funds drive for the food bank.

Donate: While we work towards long-term change to address the root causes of hunger, we still need to ensure that people have access to food in the short-term. Donate today to the Ontario Association of Food Banks: for every $1 you donate, we can provide 3 meals to someone in need.

We all want to see the end of hunger in our communities — but we can’t do it alone. It will take all of us acting together today to create a better Ontario tomorrow.