Canadian food banks prepare for ‘tidal wave’ of new clients

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A newly released study from Food Banks Canada says more Canadians will face food insecurity in the coming months.

“A volatile combination of high housing costs, pandemic job losses, rising food costs and an anticipated further pull-back on government supports is creating a ‘perfect storm’ that has Canada’s food banks bracing for a ‘tidal wave’ of new clients in the months ahead,” the Food Banks Canada HungerCount 2021 report said in part.

Food Banks Canada says since 2019, Ontario has the second largest increase in client visits in the country, behind only Quebec.

HUNGERCOUNT 2021 FINDINGS INCLUDE:

  • Over one-in-four food banks located in larger urban centers saw their usage more than double compared to two years earlier
  • One-third of clients are children, even though they only represent 19 per cent of the general population
  • 27 per cent of Canadians accessing food banks are on fixed incomes such as pensions or disability benefits
  • Food bank demand in larger urban centers was more likely to be attributed to job loss

“Each of those visits represents people. And when I think about a mom who could be walking through the door of a food bank and worried about how she’s going to feed her kids, my heart just goes out,” said Kirstin Beardsley with Food Banks Canada.

Urban food banks were also more like to be accessed by racialized populations than food banks in other regions.

HIGH DEMAND IN WATERLOO REGION

The Food Bank of Waterloo Region has seen a 26 per cent uptick in users in the last two years, making the biggest increase it has seen since the 2008 recession.

“We’re currently working with more than 100 agencies and programs throughout Waterloo Region,” said Wendi Campbell, the food bank’s CEO.

Since the pandemic began, Campbell said the food bank is serving more than 34,000 adults and children in the region.

“Individuals and families accessing food assistance for the very first time,” she said. “There’s been an increase in the frequency of services.”

It’s a similar sentiment at the Cambridge Food Bank.

“We’re seeing more families who are struggling with food insecurity,” said Dianne McLeod, the food bank’s executive director. “In Cambridge, we’re seeing more people who are working coming to the food bank.”

RECOMMENDATIONS TO COMBAT FOOD INSECURITY

Food Banks Canada highlighted housing, low wages and unemployment as the key contributors to the growth in new clients.

The report calls on the federal government to implement a national rent support program for Canadians struggling to cover costs.

It also advocates for a sweeping overhaul of Canada’s Employment Insurance policy, as well as a phased approach toward raising minimum wage.

HungerCount 2021 shows that nearly half of all food bank clients are single, low-income, working-age adults living alone. Food Banks Canada wants anyone who falls under that category to receive priority consideration in all future poverty reduction measures.

The report also recommends collaboration with the newly formed Inuit-Crown working group to enhance measures to reduce food insecurity in northern communities.

The full report can be found here.

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