Ontario food banks saw record-high usage in 2022
Food banks across the province saw a 38 per cent increase in use between April 2022 and 2023 — doubling the record for a single-year increase in food bank use set after the 2008 recession.
The staggering statistic headlines a new report from Feed Ontario, a network of 1,200 food banks and other organizations that address food insecurity — released on Monday.
“At what point are there going to be too many hungry people for change to happen?” Carolyn Stewart, CEO of Feed Ontario, asked when speaking to the Star.
This isn’t the first food bank record broken this year. Earlier in April, Daily Bread Food Bank reported a 40-year high in demand for its services and again in, in Nov., said one in 10 Torontonians rely on food banks. Rent costs have soared month after month, piling onto inflated grocery costs, stagnating wages and limited avenues towards social assistance have pushed more people toward food insecurity.
Food bank use last year broke records
In total, 800,822 people — five per cent of the province’s population or one in 19 Ontarians — turned to Feed Ontario food banks across the province for help over the past year. For scale, the report noted, the number of Ontarians that used a food bank last year was larger than the entire population of Mississauga, which currently sits at 717,961 people according to the 2021 census.
Food banks across the province saw nearly six million visits over the past year, a more than 100 per cent increase since Feed Ontario’s prepandemic 2019-20 report. That’s nearly four times the number of people that attended this year’s CNE.
Who is using food banks?
Food insecurity doesn’t discriminate, according to the report. Increased demand this past year has been driven by those who are employed — one in six food bank visitors cited employment as their primary source of income, a 40 per cent increase from Feed Ontario’s 2021-22 report.
People relying on disability and income supplement programs have seen their stagnant social supports become less effective as food costs have risen. They continue to make up the bulk of food bank clients.
As of Sept., there were nearly 500,000 people receiving the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), which provides at most $1,308 a month. Over 400,000 people depend on Ontario Works, a financial support program run by the province, which has a maximum allowance of $733 a month. People who rely on ODSP, if they receive the maximum allowance, only receive less than half the $2,607 cost of the average one-bedroom rental home in Toronto for October.
Chronic food bank use has also risen — the number of clients that are repeat visitors has increased since before the pandemic, the report noted. But first-time visitors — two in five food bank clients — still make up the bulk of people who are turning toward services for the first time.
In terms of demographics, most food bank users, 43 per cent, were aged 18 to 44 years old. However, nearly a third were younger than 17 years old. The vast majority, 87 per cent, of food bank users, according to the report, cited cost of living as the main reason for visiting a food bank.
Can food banks keep up with demand?
“Ultimately demand for (food bank) services is outpacing capacity,” Stewart explained. “In certain communities, people who were donating to the food bank are now accessing the food bank.”
Two-thirds of food banks were only able to provide services once per month, the report showed. And the majority of food banks rely on volunteers — more than half of food banks had five or fewer paid staff, and nearly a quarter had no paid staff at all. While some food banks may receive government support, Stewart said, the vast majority rely on donations.
As part of the report, Feed Ontario called for several policy changes from the federal and provincial government, including bolstered social supports, more protections for precarious workers and better housing supports.
One in six food bank visitors this past year cited employment as their primary source of income, a 40 per cent increase from Feed Ontario’s 2021-22 report
Toronto Star Newspapers Limited