The demand for food banks continues to rise and there is no sign of it slowing.
Use of food banks has been increasing for the past six years, according to Feed Ontario’s 2022 Hunger Report.
And Newark Neighbours in Niagara-on-the-Lake is no stranger to this increase — it has witnessed a large increase in visits since 2020, well over 100 per cent.
“I took on the management of the food bank in July of 2020 and at that point we had about 30 visits a month,” said Newark Neighbours board chair Cindy Grant.
At that time, 30 visits was a busy month, she said.
“Now we’re up to 80 visits a month,” she added.
According to the Hunger Report, the number of people visiting food banks increased by 24 per cent between January and September 2022.
One in three people were first-time visitors.
More than 587,000 people visited a food bank in Ontario between April 2021 and March 2022, the report says.
On average, Newark receives about two to four new clients a month now, said Grant.
As of Jan. 13, Newark has already registered three new clients.
“I think it’s inflation, I think it’s food prices, I think word of mouth — more and more people are finding out about us,” Grant said when asked what could be causing the heightened demand.
According to the report, “In Ontario, the rise in precarious work is one of the main contributors to more people turning to food banks for support.”
Precarious work includes part-time, low wage work for those entering the work force, the report explains. However, within the last 20 years, Canada is seeing fewer full-time work opportunities and an increase in precarious work.
Those working in precarious positions often don’t have benefits or income security, and often struggle with the increasing cost of food and rent.
“To put it simply, education, credentials and experience are no longer a guarantee that working professionals will be able to secure quality employment,” the report says.
Another factor contributing to high food bank usage is a lack of support for people receiving social assistance from Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program.
Newark Neighbours is a member of Feed Niagara, which connects 10 Feed Ontario-recognized food banks across Niagara.
Many of the other food banks in the region also are seeing double-digit increases, said Grant.
Even though Newark has seen a large increase in new clients, Newark’s numbers are still small compared to other food banks.
Community Care of St. Catharines and Thorold serves 10 per cent of the population of St. Catharines and Thorold, according to Feed Niagara.
While food bank demand has increased, Grant said donations are still coming in at a good rate at Newark — though she recognizes that this is not the case at other food banks.
As it stands, Newark is able to handle the increase in food bank usage, said Grant.
However, when it moves to its new Virgil location, she anticipates Newark will need more food room volunteers.
“We’ll always find a way to accommodate the clients, no matter how many there are,” said Grant.