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More employed people turning to Toronto food banks amid record-high visits, new report says

Toronto food banks recorded 1.66 million visits between April 2021 and March 2021, up from 1.45 million visits the year before, according to the Who's Hungry report from the Daily Bread and North York Harvest food banks.  (Sara Jabakhanji/CBC - image credit)
Toronto food banks recorded 1.66 million visits between April 2021 and March 2021, up from 1.45 million visits the year before, according to the Who's Hungry report from the Daily Bread and North York Harvest food banks. (Sara Jabakhanji/CBC - image credit)

More people who have jobs as their primary source of income are now turning to food banks as cost of living continues to climb and put pressure on food support programs, a new report finds.

As food banks saw another record year of visits and new users, the strain on their resources is also at record levels with no signs of slowing, according to this year's Who's Hungry report from the Daily Bread and North York Harvest food banks.

"The news is not that we have record numbers, we've seen them going up since the pandemic started and they're still continuing to escalate," said Diane Dyson, the interim vice-president of research and advocacy with the Daily Bread Food Bank.

"Whether it's social assistance rates or whether it's what minimum wage, people cannot afford to live in [this] city."

Toronto food banks recorded 1.66 million visits between April 2021 and March 2022, up from 1.45 million the year before,  according to the report released Monday.

Not only are food banks seeing existing clients more often, but there is also a growing number of people turning to food banks for support for the first time. The increased need is "straining food banks' resources and capacity to keep pace with demand," the report notes.

The number of people who have jobs as their primary source of income doubled from roughly 16 per cent in 2021 to 33 per cent.

"Holding a job is no assurance that one will not need to use a food bank," it reads.

Nearly half of respondents reported skipping a meal

In the 2022 report, almost half of respondents — 49 per cent — reported skipping a meal to pay for other necessities like rent or transportation costs.

Three years ago, that was the situation facing Kimberly Mitchell and her husband Christopher Fink..

"If you've ever had a feeling of hunger, it's a deep pain and so it's not a comfortable feeling," Mitchell said.

Mitchell lived in North York but wasn't able to afford rent, which eventually forced her out of her home. That left her and Fink reliant on shelters, food banks and church food programs to survive.

Now, the couple lives in Toronto with the help of the Ontario Disability Support Program and food banks.

Sara Jabakhanji/CBC
Sara Jabakhanji/CBC

"We wouldn't be able to live day-to-day if we didn't have the assistance from the food bank," she said.

Dyson said an key finding in the report was the amount of people who reported not having anyone to turn to for help. About 39 per cent of respondents said they did not have people in their life to count on in times of need.

Moreover, certain groups disproportionately experiencing higher rates and severity of food insecurity included those with disabilities, racialized people, newcomers and people with precarious immigration status.

"These groups face structural oppressions, such as systemic racism and xenophobia, that result in inequitable access to wealth and other resources," the report reads.

"These conditions function to keep individuals in poverty and increase their likelihood of experiencing food insecurity."

Sara Jabakhanji/CBC
Sara Jabakhanji/CBC

The information in the report was collected from the Link2Feed database, which tracks user intake and visits. The survey findings come from 1,165 phone and online surveys conducted in seven different languages, and three in-depth interviews with clients.

Among food bank users, respondents had a median monthly income of $1,061, an amount equal to less than half of Toronto's 2020 poverty line of $2,060 a month. Ninety-six percent of survey respondents live below the poverty line.

'It's unconscionable'

"Governments at all levels need to step up and say that we have a poverty line that defines what you need to be able to afford a dignified life," Dyson said.

"We should make sure that people have those incomes so that they don't have to rely on charity to feed their kids or to feed themselves. There's still too many people in our city, far too many that are going hungry."

Laura Pedersen/CBC
Laura Pedersen/CBC

Seven out of 10 respondents who reported not having enough food were racialized. Of those who reported child hunger, 81 per cent were racialized, compared to 19 per cent of children raised in white households.

"We know a third of the people coming through the doors that we're feeding are kids and that 12 per cent of them are still hungry every week," Dyson said.

"It's unconscionable."

Dyson said the food bank is not anticipating a slowdown in the demand for food. The report projects growth of at least two million visits in the next year.

"We know that people will continue to come to us at least for the foreseeable future."

CBC Toronto's Sounds of the Season is raising food and funds again this year to support local food banks to help the skyrocketing demand. You can become a community champion by running a food drive in your area.  

For more information on how you can get involved visit cbc.ca/sots.