Number of Ontarians relying on food banks up for sixth straight year

Students from St. Joseph's Catholic High School in St. Thomas sort donation boxes at the London Food Bank. (File photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn Media)

For the sixth consecutive year, food bank usage in Ontario has increased significantly, particularly among people who never had to rely on those services previously.

Feed Ontario, an organization made up of 1,200 food banks and affiliate agencies across the province, released its annual Hunger Report Monday. Figures from the report subtitled “The Deepening Cracks in Ontario’s Economic Foundation” show 587,000 adults and children accessed a food bank in the province between April 2021 and March 2022. That is an increase of 15 per cent over the past three years. There were more than 4.3 million individual visits during that time frame, a 42 per cent jump.

According to the report, this is the sixth straight year that food bank use has risen.

One of the largest increases was in first-time visitors to food banks. The report states one in three Ontarians relying on a food bank to eat had never sought assistance before. That is up 64 per cent compared to pre-pandemic numbers.

“Food banks are designed to provide emergency support,” said Carolyn Stewart, Feed Ontario’s executive director. “Today however, the demands on food banks are not limited to emergency response. We are seeing food banks become increasingly relied upon to help fill gaps in the social safety net and subsidize government policy changes, budget cuts, and inadequate social support programs.”

While inflation and soaring housing prices play a role, the ever-growing need is also blamed on the lower quality of jobs available. The report states, more workers are struggling to make ends meet as there are fewer “well paying, stable, unionized jobs”, pushing more people into “part-time, temporary, and low paying” gigs. Currently, one in ten workers are in jobs considered to be precarious.

“In looking at longstanding income security trends, data shows that it is harder for someone to break the cycle of poverty today than it was thirty or more years ago,” said Stewart. “Ontario’s once-strong employment sector and social safety net have been weakened by decades of cost saving measures that have put low-income families in increasingly more precarious positions.”

In an effort to address rising food bank usage, Feed Ontario is calling on the provincial government to make improvements to four specific areas – quality of work available, social assistance, social housing, and a people first approach to policy and programs. Immediate steps that could be taken to help include providing gig workers with the same employment protections as other sectors, boosting social assistance to a basic standard of living, investing in more new and renovated affordable housing projects, and seeking input for those with lived experience during the development of programs and policies going forward.

“What is most concerning about this moment in time is the deepening cracks in our economic foundation that make it more difficult than ever for the lowest income households to weather a new storm,” said Stewart. “Food banks were designed to respond in emergencies. Without immediate actions, food banks may be unable to meet the demand in the province should the current pressures on the system continue.”

The full 2022 Hunger Report can be downloaded by clicking here.