By Ron Murdock
In 1982 was when the very first food bank in Canada opened its doors.
It was originally intended to be a temporary solution. But as federal and provincial deficits rose steeply during the 80’s and 90’s it meant income support programs were weakened and dismantled. As a result people started to circulating in a poverty cycle that is hard to get out off. In a political statement, at this time, the Saskatchewan NDP had its priorities to deal with and the whole poverty issue was not high on the list. So much for helping people get back on their feet.
Bob Pringle, director of the Saskatoon Food Bank, said “utilities and rent are paid direct by Social Services to the company involved. As a result, the persons incentives to work are decreased as it costs money to start working. Also Saskatchewan Social Services only allow a small amount of money – $50 per month – to be earned before declared wages are taken off the support cheque, usually at a dollar for dollar rate.” Pringle went to say the “exemption” should be higher.
“75% of the Saskatoon Food Bank clients are steady, 50% of them are children”, said Pringle. “Welfare rates are still at 1980 levels and the minimum wage had only gone up four times in the 10 years prior to 2002. Still bills need to be paid and groceries need to be bought, so people have to do what is necessary to survive. As a result, people can come to the food bank every two weeks to get a food hamper.
Pringle tries to provide quality food in the hampers. He said “a high level of carbohydrates, in form of bread and other bakery items are in stock but we need to provide a balance of protein foodstuff such as eggs and meat. Donations from the public do come in and a grant of $20,000 came from the city of Saskatoon which was used to buy food with protein in it and products like infant formula, Still the Saskatoon Food Bank has to pay taxes and utilities.”
Pringle mentioned “the budget is very tight as the Saskatoon Food Bank is a charity and doesn’t receive any core funding from anyone. Until all poverty issues are addressed food banks will remain necessary. What needs to happen is a strengthened economy more training allowances, better job training, literacy, nutrition awareness, safe and sound housing, more child and health care. Government, social agencies and individuals need to get involved to make things better.
The Saskatoon Food Bank had 7 core staff members, another 5 on a Canada work grant and is rounded off by many full time and part time volunteers. The food bank also takes 12 people from the Can/Sask employment center. All this provides opportunities for these people to improve job skills and develop self-confidence along with getting into the routine of being in a work place.
No longer just a food bank, the Saskatoon Food Bank opened up the Grassroots Resource and Learning Center. It’s here that people can learn to use the Inter-Net, use a community kitchen, get their income tax done, borrow books from a rescue library and read the daily Saskatoon Star Phoenix. A clothing depot is located at the food bank which clients pay two dollars per month to utilize. Money raised is used to pay for the phone and paper.
Pringle went on to say; “The Saskatoon Food Bank needs to expand its learning/skills development area by adding another 3000 square feet on another floor.” He would like to get more sustainable finances, network more with other community groups and try to put more nutritional food to more appropriate levels in the food hampers.
Pringle tries not to judge people and wants to be more emphatic and provide a safe place for people to be in. His motto is “trust everyone until proven otherwise.”