Hunger a gnawing problem
Some Yk students go to school with empty stomachs

by Ian Elliot
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 22/97) - Hunger is a growth industry in Yellowknife.

Food banks, hamper programs, school breakfast and lunch programs are all reporting an increase in the number of people who rely on them, says a Health and Social Services nutritionist.

"You would be surprised who uses the food bank," Jill Christiensen said.

"And the thing is, tomorrow it could be you or I who loses our job and has to go there to get something to eat."

The increase in food bank patronage is being seen all across Canada as food banks, which were originally set up as a temporary solution, find themselves becoming fixtures in small towns and big cities.

Last Thursday was World Food Day, a day to raise awareness of food issues, and Christiensen says too many adults and children are walking around Yellowknife and small NWT communities without having had enough to eat.

There are any number of factors that drive a person to a food bank, said Christiensen.

Those factors range from the loss of a job to high costs for things like rent in the North which leave even working people without enough money left at the end of the month to buy groceries.

Children often bear the brunt of poverty and lack of food, though. Across Canada, 40 per cent of people who use food banks are children under 18.

Those are also the ones who rely on school programs to get a breakfast, without which they will have difficulty paying attention and even staying awake in class, she said, and they are not necessarily children from poor families.

"Is it that people don't have food? Is it that they don't have time to prepare breakfast for their children before sending them off to school? I don't know," said Christiensen.

But there are enough hungry children showing up at Yellowknife's schools that practically every school has some sort of program set up to provide children with either a breakfast or lunch.

A number of teachers keep an emergency supply of food, such as crackers or peanut butter, in their desks for children who would not eat otherwise, she said.