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This bank needs help from everyone

The banking industry is big news these days, but I have to wonder if we are forgetting the other bank that is growing in our society - the food bank.

The banking industry is big news these days, but I have to wonder if we are forgetting the other bank that is growing in our society - the food bank.

What started as a temporary measure has become a fact of life for far too many of our New Westminster neighbours. Like the rest of Canada, the gap in B.C. has widened between the most affluent and the most vulnerable. The statistics are enlightening. According to a Food Banks British Columbia hunger report issued this year:

Food bank use in B.C. is up 16 per cent compared to 2008.

32 per cent of individuals using food banks are children and youth - 41 per cent of assisted households are families with children.

16 per cent of households visiting the food bank had income from current or recent employment.

We also have to look at the popular stereotypes of who uses the food bank. Single mothers continue to be the most vulnerable, but more and more seniors are turning up for that bag of food that will see them to the end of the month. As well, more two-parent families are requiring help, and the percentage of homeowners needing food supplements has also increased.

A significant percentage of New Westminster residents have household incomes under $20,000. Women make up the largest group of these low-income households, with around one-third female lone-parent families.

The high cost of housing, particularly in the Lower Mainland, is a huge issue. For renters, the choice of meeting the monthly rent payment isn't really a choice at all. Pay the rent or be on the street. Families with nowhere else to cut buy fewer groceries.

The same choice - or more accurately, lack of choice - is present when it comes to paying utilities. Pay the heating bill or risk being cut off. Winter, with its higher heating costs, will bring new challenges.

It isn't an issue of budgeting; there simply isn't enough money to pay rent, utilities, daycare, etc. and buy nourishing food for a growing family, even when both parents work at above minimum wage.

Social assistance rates, after adjustments for inflation, are lower now than 20 years ago.

And children remain poor because their parents are poor. B.C. has the highest child poverty rate in Canada, with 140,000 children growing up poor. As well, a Toronto Star article points out that nearly three times more aboriginal, immigrant and visible minority children are poorer than the national average. I don't have the statistics for New Westminster, but I suspect that number would play out here, too. I am proud that my city, thanks to the good folks at Shiloh-Sixth Avenue United Church, offers the Hospitality Project, with special programs designed to help lower income families. Basics for Babies supports families with infants by providing them with food, formula and diapers. Kids Picks provides little ones from 18 months to age five with a supplemental bag of healthy, ready-to-eat snacks.

I wish every school child in New Westminster had breakfast and a hot lunch as a regular part of the school day. We know that hungry children don't learn in the same way as their more well-off peers. We also know that when children struggle in school and lack the resources to continue their education they face becoming lowincome citizens and the circle of poverty continues.

I am proud that New Democrats are urging a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy, as has happened in seven other provinces and territories. We must not keep ignoring the issue of poverty in British Columbia, which seems to be the prevailing policy. Surely we must act on First Call's recent report that shows that B.C. weighs in well above the national child poverty rate.

The number of poor children living in families with at least one adult working full-time rose from 38.5 to 48 per cent, up substantially from last year's report. The rate of poverty for children living in new immigrant households rose to an astounding high of 49.6 per cent.

There are now more than 100,000 children living in poverty with the poorest 50 per cent of families receiving less than one-quarter of all the total personal income in B.C.

The gap between rich and poor continues to grow and everyday life continues to be a struggle for far too many families.

This is the season when the food bank will be hoping to fill its shelves for the coming year.

When I recently spoke to the New Westminster Food Bank coordinator, Mona Forsyth, she said any help you can give will make a real difference for a family in our community.

I hope you will contribute in whatever way you can - a cheque or a few extra groceries when you shop.

All contributions, no matter how small, are appreciated. The New Westminster Food Bank, the largest in the region, is located at 1111 Sixth Ave. at Shiloh-Sixth Avenue United Church.

We'll be collecting nonperishable food items for the Food Bank at my community office, 737 Sixth St. from Dec. 1 to 16.

Please drop by my annual community office open house on Saturday, Dec. 3 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. I look forward to seeing you then - with food in hand.

Dawn Black is the MLA for New Westminster.