Food Banks Canada’s latest numbers are out and it appears that last year’s food insecurity problem has not gone away – it’s getting worse.
The organization’s 2023 Hunger Count report states that 1.9 million people turned to food banks this past March, a record high for the country.
The report, released on Oct. 25, documented usage at food banks across Canada. This year’s number of food bank visits represents an increase of 32 per cent from 2022 and of 78 per cent from 2019.
Of that 1.9 million, 600,000 – nearly a third – were children.
The numbers at a food bank in Niagara-on-the-Lake mirror that upward trend, said Cindy Grant, the chair of Newark Neighbours.
“We currently have 119 families (as clients) and of that, 54 are new in 2023. That’s almost exactly half,” she said.
Those families add up to 241 individuals. Of that number, 77 are children under the age of 17, Grant added.
“For some comparison, in 2021 we had 64 clients, 17 of them were new,” she said.
More than 4,750 food banks and community organizations across the country were surveyed for the report, a report that Food Banks Canada said shows the devastating impact of rapid inflation and inadequate social support on poverty, food insecurity and hunger in Canada.
The reasons for the rising usage were varied, said Kirstin Beardsley, the organization’s CEO.
“Relentless inflation and a broken social safety net has caused many people who never thought they would need a food bank to walk through the doors for the first time,” she said.
Grant, meanwhile, said those factors also fueled the increased use of food banks in NOTL.
“There are several reasons why usage is up,” Grant said. “It’s just economic. The cost of living is higher. The cost of food is higher.”
She added that Newark Neighbours is also seeing 13 families who are refugee claimants, as well as single-parent families and single individuals working in minimum wage jobs who need help putting food on the table.
“It’s the unemployed, the under-employed. They’re just trying to get by,” she said.
Grant said more needs to be done by all levels of government to help increase food security.
“We need affordable housing, social services need to be improved, including (the Ontario Disability Support Program) and Ontario Works.”
That’s something that Food Banks Canada’s Beardsley agreed with.
“Governments at all levels must respond by focusing on urgent affordability issues and fixing our broken social safety net,” she said.
In the report, Food Banks Canada said that was a lesson learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, during which food bank usage actually dropped.
That was largely due to government support programs such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which helped with food security by putting $2,000 a month in the pockets of families and individuals living on the edge.
Demand, however, came back and now more people have been turning to food banks since those benefits ceased.
While that is also the case for Newark Neighbours, usage has also risen after the organization moved to its new location on Niagara Stone Road in Virgil, Grant said.
The organization moved to Virgil after 30 years of operating at its previous location tucked away near Peller Estates.
“Since we moved to the new location, we’re just so much more visible,” Grant said.
People seeking help from Newark Neighbours must have a Niagara-on-the-Lake address.
While there is no means of testing to determine a client’s eligibility, new users are interviewed to help assess their exact needs, Grant said.
Newark Neighbours is located at 1534 Niagara Stone Rd. in Virgil.
The food bank and thrift store are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Saturday while the thrift store offers extended hours until 7 p.m. on Thursdays.