Of difficult choices

By James Matthews
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Life is rife with tough choices. None of them should be weighing whether or not to put a meal on the table for your family or keeping the heat on during a cold winter.

I’ve long lamented the chasm that is the wealth gap between the rich and the average. Evidence of that growing divide is undeniable. The proof is all around us. The evidence is in Feed Ontario’s annual Hunger Report.

The first image that greets you when you go to the Feed Ontario website (feedontario.ca) is the happy face of a little girl about to bite into a red juicy apple. You can see happiness in her brown eyes looking into the camera.

This year’s edition of the annual Hunger Report was released in November and it points to a stark reality. Not a new reality, necessarily. Well, for some people: The growing number of first-time visitors to Ontario’s food banks. It’s a new world for them. The number of Ontarians who accessed a food bank between January and September increased by 24 per cent over last year. One in three food bank users were first-time visitors. They rose 64 per cent since 2019.

You can’t blame the pandemic, either. This has been the sixth consecutive year for increases in the ranks of food bank users, according to Feed Ontario.

The crowd at Feed Ontario don’t pull their punches, either, bless them. To wit: “Both the government and the private sector have increasingly relied upon food banks to subsidize budget cuts and cost-saving measures.”

That comes close to assigning blame. I realize that, and I tend to agree.

Food banks are concerned about the rate at which food insecurity is rising. For one thing, a visit to a food bank meets a person’s or a family’s immediate needs. Another concern is that people’s need can outpace supply. You think that’s a long way off? It might be closer than we think.

I know people who had to make the tough choice I opened this piece with. I guess that makes it all closer to me, more immediate than it could be to other people.

A friend of mine has three children. They’re teenagers. He and his missus work shifts, he at a warehouse where he drives a forklift and she at a pharmacy. They live where she can walk to her job. But he has to drive a little more than an hour each way.

I told him I was writing this. All he asked was that he not be identified.

His difficult choice: To put gas in the car so he can get to work or use that coin to buy a few groceries. Nevermind whatever’s on anybody’s Christmas wish list.

A no-brainer, right? You do what you have to do. So my friend, he parked his car until pay day. Called in sick to his job every day for almost a week. And he put in for what his union calls a Family Emergency Day.

So it worked out all right for them.

It worked out this time. He’s looked into where his local food bank is located. That’s part of planning for the next time when maybe there’s another choice that needs to be made.

And there are many families that have to make similar decisions every day. 

From the 2022 Hunger Report: “In a recent survey of 140 food banks, two out of three shared that there has been a noticeable decrease in food donations, and one out of five shared that the food bank has not been able to purchase the same volume of food as before due to higher food prices. In many ways, this is creating a perfect storm – demand is hitting an all-time high while resources are declining.”