‘Unacceptable’: Report finds 10% of Torontonians accessed a food bank this year

The Daily Bread is out with its annual Who's Hungry report and this year the organization says tens of thousands of people are facing food insecurity in Toronto. Faiza Amin reports.

By Meredith Bond and Faiza Amin

Use of food banks in Toronto has reached unprecedented levels, with one in 10 people utilizing one this year, according to the latest annual report from the Daily Bread Food Bank, up from one in 20 last year.

The report called “Who’s Hungry?” that was released on Tuesday showed that food banks have seen the highest annual increase of client visits, with 120,000 new individuals making use of a food bank for the first time.

CEO Neil Heatherington said skyrocketing housing costs, food inflation and insufficient income supports have pushed more and more people to rely on food banks.

“After paying rent and utilities, food bank clients in Toronto saw a total income leftover of only $6.67. That’s just enough to take a round trip on the TTC,” said Hetherington.

A key point in the report is the changing demographics of those who access a food bank. Half of their clients have somebody in their household who is employed and 59 per cent have completed a post-secondary education. A quarter of them are children whose “parents who have been making the impossible choices to make ends meet.”

“It’s unacceptable,” said Hetherington. “These are individuals who have done everything right. And as the old adage goes, if you if you go to school, if you get a job, if you work hard, you’ll be fine. That adage isn’t true anymore, and we see it every single day.”

He added each number in this report represents a real person who is grappling with the “immense, immense stress of not having an adequate income to cover the very most basic needs.”

Sue Ellen Patterson is a Daily Food Bank volunteer who now relies the food bank herself to feed her family. “I didn’t know how much of a difference that box of food was going to make not only to my family’s physical and mental health, but also to our autonomy and our dignity … We still skip meals on occasion, but nowhere near as often. Our menu is based on the staples we can count on from Daily Bread.”

Patterson has gone years without taking medication for some of her health conditions because she can’t afford them on top of rent and food. She lives in co-operative three-bedroom apartment with four other adults and they still rely on the food bank between two to four times a month.

“I think what I want people to understand is we are all humans. We are all trying to survive. We don’t need the best of everything but we need the basics. We’re not talking about strangers, we’re talking about your neighbours, co-workers, family members and fellow students,” said Patterson.

Patterson noted food banks were never supposed to be a solution to poverty, a sentiment echoed by many of the other food banks across the city.

“Food banks are not a sustainable solution to poverty. Food banks are a band aid. That was all they were ever meant to be a temporary support while we heal the wounds, and the wound is now festering,” said Patterson.

Sarah Watson with North York Harvest Food Bank said the rise in demand they have seen is no longer sustainable.

“Food banks are critical and they need your support now more than ever, but they are not the solution and sooner than later, much sooner. They will reach their limit.”

Carolyn Stewart with Feed Ontario said what’s happening in Toronto is also being mirrored in the rest of the province.

“Many are reaching their full capacity and do not have the resources to keep up and are are making difficult choices about having to reduce services or potentially close the doors in the very near future,” said Stewart.

They are calling on all levels of government to do more to implement their poverty reduction strategy. “We need action now. We need change now. Food banks are a canary in the coal mine. This is a city in crisis,” said Watson.

“That is a policy failure on all three levels of government, doesn’t matter which party you are talking about, there are policy failures and food charity is here picking up the pieces. We are saying enough is enough. Here are our policy recommendations, it’s up to policy makers … to implement those changes,” said Hetherington.

Hetherington noted despite volunteering and donations being crucial ways the public can help, doing more to lobby your local government representative is also critical.

“I’m concerned about donations. We’ve gone from spending $1.5 million dollars a year on food to $22 million. And I’m far more concerned about the reasons why individuals are having to come to food banks. I’m far more concerned about the lack of progress when it comes to the implementation of the national housing strategy and the poverty reduction strategy.”

The full report including details on how they hope governments will step up to eliminate the need for food banks can be found here.

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