food bank toronto

Demand quadruples at Toronto food banks as people struggle to afford pretty much anything

With nearly 300,000 visits now recorded at Toronto's Daily Food Bank every month (up from an average of 65,000 three years ago,) advocates for food security are asking the provincial government for immediate assistance in keeping thousands of vulnerable people — and not-so-traditionally vulnerable people — from starving.

"It used to be that if you went to school, got an education and got a job, you would eat just fine," said Daily Food Bank CEO Neil Hetherington during a press conference on Tuesday. "That isn't the case anymore."

In fact, of the record-breaking 270,000 visits to Canada's largest food bank in March of 2023, some 12,500 were made by brand-new clients who'd never used a food bank before.

"We are seeing more and more employed individuals coming to food banks," said Hetherington on Tuesday.

"The proportion of Food Bank clients with full-time employment as the primary source of income has doubled in the past year alone, from 16 per cent pre pandemic to 33 per cent this past year."

Hetherington, whose organization is the largest of its kind in Canada, blames skyrocketing inflation, fast-rising rents and stagnant incomes (among other factors) for what he calls an "unsustainable rate of exponential growth" in food bank clients.

"Let me be very clear, we are in a crisis. The Daily Bread Food Bank and food banks all across the city are at a breaking point and there is no sign of relief," he said on Tuesday, pointing to a Statistics Canada survey from April 2022 that suggested one in five Canadians felt they'd have to rely on charity to make ends meet in the future. 

"We simply cannot go on the way things are going right now."

According to Hetherington, the Daily Bread Food Bank used to spend about $1.5 million on food every year. As of 2023, they're spending about $1.8 million every single month.

Money is running out, say administrators, and even surplus funds set aside during the pandemic will be depleted within 18 to 24 months at the rate of current demand.

After March saw the highest number of Daily Bread Food Bank visits in the organization's entire 40-year history, Hetherington spoke out this week to raise the alarm that the amount of food received by clients may have to be reduced.

One way to tackle the problem, say experts, would be raising income levels for people who are forced to rely on the food bank regularly.

"We continue to see a large portion of clients who rely on fixed incomes, such as social assistance, accessing our food banks now. A single individual on Ontario Works received a dismal $733 a month to survive on — the exact same amount as in 2018," said Hetherington on Tuesday.

"In spite of inflation having risen by 16.6 per cent, a single individual and disability is receiving $1,229 per month to survive on — some $900 below the poverty line. We continue for some reason to legislate that the most vulnerable in our province remain in poverty."

Daily Bread is thus calling upon the provincial government for a type of automatic, emergency top up $100 for individuals ($200 for families) to help them buy groceries. 

"The province has the funds to make this a reality. Due to the federal pandemic income benefits like CERB, the province has been spending less than budgeted on social assistance programs," reads a petition on the organization's website.

"In fact, the Financial Accountability Officer of Ontario reported that the province underspent by a magnitude of $453 million on social assistance programs last quarter. These are funds that can, and should, be directed towards helping low-income Ontarians survive through this unprecedented time. "

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