The number of Manitobans relying on food banks has dropped in the past year but still remains at near-record highs close to four years after the end of the economic recession.
The annual report by Food Banks Canada, issued Tuesday, reveals that 60,229 people used food banks in the province in March 2013, down 5.1 per cent from the previous year.
However, Manitoba reported the highest rate of children using food banks — at 44.7 per cent.
And compared with March 2008, food bank use in the province was up 48.8 per cent, the study says.
Across Canada, reliance on food banks also declined compared with a year earlier — with than 833,000 in March compared with 872,379 a year earlier.
"Underlying this small drop is a concern of enormous proportions: food bank use remains higher than it was before the recession began," the report states.
"During a time of apparent economic recovery, far too many Canadians still struggle to put food on the table."
Low-income jobs are the culprit, the report found, and there’s an abundance of them thanks to a Canada-wide loss of manufacturing jobs over the past three decades.
Roadblocks on the path to employment insurance and social assistance — and the paltry incomes provided by those programs once disadvantaged Canadians are able to access them — only add to the misery.
The annual HungerCount study provides one of the most up-to-date national indicators of poverty. The latest Statistics Canada numbers show that 8.8 per cent of people were living below the low-income cutoff in 2011.
Who is going hungry in 2013? More than half of those turning to food banks are families with children, the report concludes.
Twelve per cent of households asking for help were currently employed, while another five per cent were recently employed.
Eleven per cent of those using food banks self-identify as First Nations, Metis or Inuit, and another 11 per cent are new immigrants to Canada.
"Both of these groups continue to face unacceptable levels of poverty, and are forced to turn to food banks as a result," the study found.
Food Banks Canada called on governments to invest in affordable housing, better income supports and to "increase social investment in northern Canada to address the stunning levels of food insecurity in northern regions."
"We lose billions of dollars each year trying to address the health and social consequences of poverty after it takes its toll, rather than preventing it in the first place," the study found.
Katharine Schmidt, the organization’s executive director, said the while federal and provincial governments are attempting to do more to combat hunger, the numbers remain disturbingly high.
"We’ve got a long way to go," Schmidt said in an interview. "One child going to bed hungry is one child too many, and we have 300,000 of them in this country."
She added that while the country’s thousands of food banks are "really doing their best," they do not represent a long-term solution because they cannot address the root causes of hunger.
"We believe that government does care, that they do see that they have a role to play," she said. "The challenge is actually implementing a change in policy."