In downtown Toronto, long lines form every Friday outside a small church, where volunteers serve hot meals to people in need. The program, run by Rev. Canon Maggie Helwig at St. Stephen-in-the-Fields church, now feeds 130 people, a stark increase from just a few years ago. Hunger is on the rise in Canada, and it’s not just in Toronto. Food bank usage and similar programs across the country are experiencing overwhelming demand.
Record-Breaking Food Bank Usage
A recent report from Food Banks Canada reveals that food bank usage in 2023 has reached unprecedented levels since data collection began in 1989. The annual HungerCount report, based on surveys sent to food security organizations, reflects their usage in March 2023. This year’s findings show that nearly two million people, including more employed individuals than ever, turned to food banks in March alone, marking a 32 percent increase from the previous year and a staggering 78 percent higher than March 2019.
A Dire Situation
The surge in food bank demand isn’t surprising to those who work tirelessly to keep up with it. The leading factor contributing to food insecurity is no longer unemployment, as it was during the early pandemic months, but rather the soaring cost of living and inflation. Canadians are struggling to afford basic necessities such as housing and food, and this issue has reached crisis proportions.
Working Canadians Struggle to Make Ends Meet
The report notes that 17 percent of food bank clients this year have jobs, but their incomes are insufficient to cover their expenses. “Never before have food banks seen such a high level of need among the working population,” the report states. The demand for food assistance spans from coast to coast, with organizations like the Food Bank of Waterloo Region in Ontario stating that their annual funding needs to double to address the “crisis” level of demand. In some areas, former donors have now become recipients, while others are forced to turn people away.
A Multifaceted Crisis
The surge in demand is influenced by a combination of factors, including rising housing costs, inflation, and increasing grocery prices. Across Canada, food banks are grappling with the challenge of ensuring that no one goes hungry in a nation known for its wealth.