Food banks even more critical to address food insecurity as students head back to school

With the return to school, food banks in the GTA are seeing an even bigger need for critical supports. Faiza Amin reports on the emergency services more children are relying on.

By Faiza Amin and Meredith Bond

Food banks have been struggling to keep up since the COVID-19 pandemic and high inflation has led to exponential growth in visits across the GTA.

As children head back to school, it’s becoming an even more critical service.

Foot traffic inside some of the busiest food banks in the greater Toronto area is quickly picking up, including at the North York Harvest Food Bank in Lawrence Heights. They say there has been a 40 per cent increase over last year as more residents struggle to keep up with the cost of living.

“With the trend on the rise, this is certainly very concerning,” said Henry Chiu, Director of Development and Marketing at North York Harvest Foodbank.

More than 25,000 clients visit this network of food banks with one-third of those clients under the age of 19. Of those children, two-thirds of them are 11 years old or younger.

“Among the new clients right now, we’re seeing families more than single-parent households. so that means a lot more children are needing support.”

According to the Daily Bread Food Bank, about 200,000 students benefit from Student Nutrition programs in Toronto, whether it’s breakfast, lunch or snacks. They actually see an increase in visits during the summer when those programs are not around.

“They’re really critical. But Canada doesn’t have a national school nutrition program, unlike many countries in the world, so it’s pretty unequal across the city in terms of who has access to these programs. Some students have access and some don’t, and that really will affect their household food insecurity,” said Talia Bronstein with the Daily Bread Food Bank.

Earlier this year, the chair of Canada’s largest school board, Toronto District Catholic School Board (TCDSB), wrote a public letter to government officials, saying there’s an urgent need to address food insecurity and for the creation of a national school food program.

Bronstein added provincial funding has also been frozen.

“These programs aren’t able to keep up with demands and that’s happening right across the city.”

When families can’t access those programs, they turn to food banks. At the Daily Bread, 25 per cent of clients in Toronto are under the age of 18 but they also have seen a sharp rise in all demographics.

“The past few years, we went from serving 65,000 food bank visits in 2019 to now 217,000 monthly,” explained Bornstein.

It isn’t just affecting students in middle school and high school. North York Harvest said their program at York University has gone up over three times in 2023 compared to the same period in 2022.

Bornstein said they have seen the same thing.

“Students who are paying for the high cost of education, with limited access to employment opportunities while juggling school … those are people who are particularly at risk for food insecurity.”

The North York food bank has asked clients what some of their biggest challenges are currently, and they’ve said housing, transportation, phone and Wi-Fi.

Food banks have continued to call on governments to address the root causes of food insecurity, especially as the holiday season, one of their busiest, is around the corner. They worry about being able to meet the demand in the future.

“We’re very grateful that Canadians continue to provide support … whether that support can continue to match the rise in demand, we don’t know,” said Chiu.

Top Stories

Top Stories

Most Watched Today