2007 Karen Selick
An edited version of this article first appeared in the November 20, 2007 issue of the National Post.
If you wish to reproduce this article, click here for copyright info.
Food Banks Are Ridiculous
Food bank use has grown by 14.3 percent
according to the Ontario Association of Food Banks’ recently released
Report 2007. In
Did the people who run food banks never hear the
expression, “Build it
and they will come”?
It’s really simple: give stuff away for free and there will be takers. Every merchandiser knows this. That’s why stores offer two-for-one sales, free gifts to the first 50 customers, and so on.
Food banks have actually helped create the
very problem they
claim to be remedying—people running out of grocery money before the
paycheque or welfare cheque—by helping eliminate the stigma that used
accompany begging for food.
It’s mortifying admitting to people you know—family, friends or neighbours—that you can’t afford groceries this week. But with a food bank middleman between you and the anonymous donors, nobody who actually knows you needs to know your predicament.
There’s also the comfort of seeing the many
other food bank
users. You needn’t be ashamed—you’re not alone in this plight.
And food bank volunteers try to be
eliminate users’ embarrassment as much as possible.
In the words of
So once you’ve made that first trip, and
walked out feeling
good, it’ll be even easier to go back. In fact, you can start revising
budget with that in mind. Spend a little more on non-necessities and
food bank fill in the gap with tuna, rice and peanut butter. It makes perfect economic sense.
Food banks are actually a ridiculous idea. In a country devastated by war or natural
it might make sense for charities to bring donated foodstuffs to local
centres and hand them out. In
It’s just plain wasteful for food banks to
to the existing food distribution system.
The rent, utilities, insurance and all the other expenses
retailing food have already been paid once by the supermarkets before
purchase items to donate. When the food
bank incurs its own expenses for rent, utilities, insurance, etc., it
unnecessary layer of costs to the process of getting food to consumers.
Even shelving costs are duplicated. A supermarket receives whole cartons of the same item. Clerks can shelve everything in minimal time, reducing labour costs. But food bank donations are disorderly jumbles of everything. It takes additional labour to collect, sort and shelve it. Even volunteers’ labour still represents a hidden cost. The shelving task has already been done once. Why undo it, then re-do it? It would make more sense for volunteers to spend their time earning income at their usual occupations, then donating the money to poor people to spend at supermarkets.
Donors and volunteers are wasting another
opportunity too: the
income tax reduction they’d get by donating cash to a charity, instead
goods or labour.
Food banks are inefficient even from the user’s perspective. Most users get only a portion of their groceries from the food bank. They still have to shop at supermarkets for the rest. So they, too, are forced to make an extra trip—probably to a location that’s less convenient for them, since there are fewer food banks than supermarkets.
The illogic of food banks is so obvious that
explanation makes sense. Charities can’t simply collect cash and give
money to the needy because donors know it wouldn’t all be spent on
Some would be spent on cigarettes, booze or bingo .
Years ago, when I prepared budget statements
for clients on legal aid, I was astonished at how much some poor people
on such things.
Middle-class or wealthy Canadians shouldn’t accept guilt when anti-poverty activists hint that the existence of food banks proves some moral deficiency in the economic system. Far from it. Food banks simply conceal problems that are taboo to discuss these days.
- END -
December 16, 2007