To Feed the Hungry

We live in a province that seems to be in a constant struggle to meet its many commitments, not only to healthcare — the one that seems uppermost in the minds of many Nova Scotians — but also to those who must survive on social assistance when Nova Scotia has some of the highest poverty rates in Canada.

In a letter to the editor of the Cape Breton Post (30 March 2019), Nick Jennery, executive director of Feed Nova Scotia, wasn’t terribly impressed with the provincial government’s “disproportionate response” in its March 19th budget to what he sees as a “persistent crisis,” given that “child poverty numbers decreased in all provinces but Nova Scotia (where they grew by two per cent).”

Nick Jennery, Executive Director, Feed Nova Scotia. (

Nick Jennery, Executive Director, Feed Nova Scotia (photo: LinkedIn)

Jennery acknowledges changes announced in the budget will allow for “the introduction of a Standard Rate for income assistance recipients which means people will get the maximum amount they’re eligible for as well as a very modest increase in monthly payments” and there will be “an end to child maintenance claw-backs, a doubling of the poverty tax credit and wage exemptions.” But he believes voters must “turn up the volume” on behalf of those who are suffering the most. Surely the $2-billion annual cost of the many social programs now in vogue that are just not solving the poverty problem should encourage voters to demand changes? Because, as Jennery states, “we will ignore poverty at our own peril.”

Nick Jennery has more than 30 years of experience with a number of associations in the food and drink industry, as well as non-profits, and sees his involvement with Feed Nova Scotia as a way to give back in a larger way than he had been able to do in other situations. Appointed in July 2014, he took over the reins of the organization, supervising the distribution of food to 145 food banks across Nova Scotia. It’s not surprising to Jennery that so many depend on food banks to survive, given that Nova Scotia, as he points out in his letter, “has the lowest minimum wage, growing housing, child care and food costs, a high percentage of precarious jobs and a social assistance program that historically hasn’t kept pace with the cost of living.” Given all that, Jennery feels it would be “naive to expect anything other than grim news.”

In a video produced just after his appointment, Nick Jennery talked about how impressed he was with the team at Feed Nova Scotia, who are “like-minded” in their mission to assist those who are faced with poverty and hunger in the province: “What surprised me is how much we get done with so few resources. Our donors and our partners have been so generous in helping us get the job done but that gets amplified and magnified so many more times when you look at the total tonnage of product leaving these doors.” He underlines the number of organizations Feed Nova Scotia helps every day (organizations of volunteers whose commitment to the poor is without limits.) When asked what he hoped might be accomplished over the next five years, Jennery looked forward to the organization becoming a “solutions centre, a go-to organization, a combination of government, industry and community” working to produce “an integrated plan to alleviate poverty and hunger.”

By The Photographer - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

photo via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0


Judging from his letter and our own experience with rising food costs and gas prices (for those fortunate enough to have a vehicle), Nick Jennery’s optimistic vision for Feed Nova Scotia will require more time to become even close to reality.

I recall writing down the date when I first heard mention of the fact that food prices would be heading upwards, come 2019: it was December 7th, 2018. And very soon after that prediction I became aware that prices were already rising in our local supermarkets. Not only were prices going up, packaging was getting smaller, as were the contents. “Sale” prices which had been the regular price a week earlier were being posted with completely false “former” prices crossed out. Meanwhile, so-called superstores are taking up every available space with displays that you have to maneuver around for fear of knocking something over. Products are stacked so high you’d require a ladder to reach them. Works for them, I guess.

The people it definitely doesn’t work for are those who depend on social assistance or who work for substandard wages. So I was surprised that Jennery didn’t mention the possibility of a Guaranteed Basic Income as one way to help reduce poverty, which, as noted above, he says costs the provincial government over $2 billion a year. Poverty affects all aspects of life for those dependent on social assistance. Even the federal introduction of the Canada Child Care Benefit (CCCB), which lifted thousands of children out of poverty across the country didn’t make a dent in Nova Scotia, where over 25,000 rely on social assistance to survive. (We’ll have to wait and see if the increase to the CCCB announced by the Liberals this week, to go into effect in July 2019, will make a dent.)

Karen Theriault, director of communications and development for Feed Nova Scotia, made it very clear in a conversation I had with her last week that they do, indeed, see a basic income for all Canadians as key to solving poverty in Canada. She referenced the Food Banks Canada HungerCount 2018,  “a signature report documenting food bank use in Canada.” It is a cross-sectional, census survey of most food bank agencies, organizations and programs, within and outside the Food Banks Canada network. According to the report, “the Hunger Count provides a point-in-time snapshot of food bank use in Canada by having food banks keep a record of users during the month of March each year.”

Food Banks Canada HungerCount 2018 Report

Food bank visits in Nova Scotia, March 2018, from Food Banks Canada HungerCount 2018


In March of 2018, 25,773 Nova Scotians availed themselves of the services of a food bank in the province. 45% were single, 20% were two adults with no children, 19% were two adults with children. Of those, 43% were on social assistance while 11 % received disability-related support. 31% of those using the 78 food banks who reported were children. The largest group of food bank users was in the age group 45-64, the next largest was ages 31-44, and the third largest ages 18-30: quite a cross-section of the population of our province.

Theriault was forceful in her statement that Feed Nova Scotia definitely “supports Food Banks Canada’s recommendation for federal leadership toward a basic income for Canadians.” While Theriault reveals uncertainty as to whether such a basic income will be the ultimate solution to address poverty and food insecurity, she insists that what they “absolutely know” is that the “current approach is not working.”


When Ontario, under former Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government, introduced a basic income plan in various areas of the province, reports from those receiving it indicated a positive change in their lives. Unfortunately, under the new Ford government, the entire project was cancelled, not only depriving recipients of what had been a major change for the better in their lives, but probably just as crucially, not allowing for the sharing of any data gathered, which could have contributed to establishing a similar program across the country.

Feed Nova Scotia would join Food Banks Canada, according to Theriault, in encouraging the federal government to lead the way in establishing similar basic income pilot projects “in coordination with the provinces and territories,” and to analyze the data from such projects “to determine if a basic income is best suited for Canada, and, if so, what it should look like.”

Interestingly, Kelsey Johnson, writing for iPolitics, revealed that the Trudeau government was pledging $134.4 million over five years on a cash basis to a long-awaited Canadian national food program, starting next year. Feed Nova Scotia’s Nick Jennery also mentioned this announcement in his letter, noting it had received no mention in the recent provincial budget. Senator Art Eggleton had introduced a motion in the Canadian Senate in June of 2018 to establish such a program, which had been recommended by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance in 1997, although there was never any follow-up. Johnson writes:

“The policy, outlined in Budget 2019, will focus on tackling food waste, improving community access to healthy food, shining a spotlight on Canadian food both at home and abroad, and increasing food security in Northern and remote communities.” The national food program had been a Liberal promise during the 2015 election campaign, and included, notes Johnson, “a federal commitment to work with the provinces and territories to develop a harmonized National School Food Program aimed at ensuring Canadian school children have access to healthy food before and during school.”

Debbie Madore, dietitian (photo: Dietitians Nova Scotia)

Back in October, I had a conversation with Debbie Madore, a local dietitian who has been a member of the Nutrition for Learning Committee (which includes school staff, administrative personnel, principals and other committee members) since 1999.

She recalled receiving government funding to establish a breakfast program in 10 local schools in Cape Breton. In 2005, the government began funding breakfast programs through the school boards. But it was additional funding in January of 2018, doubling the School Healthy Eating Program budget to $1.975 million, that finally expedited the inclusion of all provincial schools in the breakfast program.

Madore, at the time of our interview, was serving on the board of Nourish Nova Scotia and was involved with the development of a “Snacks and Lunch” program for all provincial schools that would build on the success of the breakfast program with provincial financial assistance. She was hopeful that federal monies might also be forthcoming, so one assumes this newly announced national food program will provide that funding. But doesn’t it make one wonder whether an annual basic income, in addition to such a plan, would mean that 31% of food bank users in Nova Scotia might no longer be children?

A national food program would no doubt be a major step toward making sure that school children were being fed a healthy diet (defined by Debbie Madore as 70% of food of maximum nutritional value and 30% of moderate nutritional value). Unfortunately, promises that are made to be carried out after an election often get cancelled, especially if there is a change in government. In similar fashion, if the current federal government had decided to invest in a national basic income project in 2020, who’s to say it wouldn’t also end up on the trash pile due to a change in leadership?

Feed Nova Scotia’s Karen Theriault feels, as do many in Nova Scotia, that there is an apathy towards solving the poverty situation in the province. I’m always amazed at the outpouring of assistance, financial especially, that comes during the Christmas season but seems to flag once the decorations and good wishes become yesterday’s news. It’s only thanks to organizations like Feed Nova Scotia and their exceptional team, and to the unbelievable generosity of volunteers across the province who, day in and day out, give their time and energy that the work of feeding the hungry actually gets done.

Nick Jennery (who was unavailable for an interview) knows that reducing poverty and hunger will only become possible when that “integrated plan” he spoke about almost five years ago becomes a reality, and, when, as his colleague Karen Theriault indicated, a guaranteed basic income is introduced across the country. Until it is, and the data is gathered and analyzed, talk of raising people out of poverty is just that – talk. Meanwhile the poor must rely on those good samaritans who are willing to give of their time and efforts to give them a hand up. The rest of us owe them – big time!


Dolores Campbell, a lifelong resident of Sydney, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Cape Breton Highlander, the Nova Scotian, Cape Breton Magazine, Catholic New Times and The Cape Breton Post.