Food Bank Use Reaches Record High in Ontario

Feed Ontario’s new report reveals the largest single-year increase in food bank use in over a decade, but COVID-19 is not entirely to blame

Toronto, Ontario, CANADA


TORONTO, Nov. 30, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Feed Ontario released its 2021 Hunger Report today, revealing a record 592,308 people accessed emergency food support last year, visiting more than 3.6 million times. This is an increase of 10 percent and 12 percent respectively over the previous year, making it the largest single-year increase since 2009. The report recognizes the impact that COVID-19 has had on food bank use in Ontario, but points to an accumulation of several income insecurity trends over recent years as the primary drivers of this growth.

“Like gasoline on a fire, COVID-19 only compounded income security and affordability issues in Ontario,” says Siu Mee Cheng, Interim Executive Director, Feed Ontario. “This includes the province’s insufficient social safety net, the rise in precarious employment, and increasingly unaffordable housing and living costs.”

The 2021 Hunger Report notes that while pandemic response measures, like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), helped many Canadians avert crisis, some of the province’s most vulnerable citizens still fell through the cracks. This is reflected in the report’s data, which showed that CERB recipients represented less than one percent of those who accessed food banks last year, compared to a staggering 36 percent increase in the number of senior citizens turning to food banks for support.

“The rising number of older adults relying on food banks for assistance is a trend that we have been monitoring closely since 2017,” says Cheng. “While there are a number of contributing factors to this trend, the most significant is how the growing lack of affordability associated with housing and the cost of living have become, particularly for those on a fixed income and low-income earners.”

Another demographic highlighted in the report are people with disabilities, who represent a third of all food bank users in Ontario. Based on a sample of eight food banks, it was found that over 60 percent of people who self-identified as having a disability had less than $100 left per month after paying for housing and utilities, including one out of five respondents who indicated that their monthly expenses currently exceed their monthly income.

“Ontarians with a disability continue to be left behind,” says Cheng. “The financial support provided through the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) falls significantly below the poverty line, making it difficult for recipients to afford the basic necessities without turning to food banks to address their food needs each month.”

Ontario’s food banks are working tirelessly to help shoulder the economic impact of the pandemic, as well as longstanding income security issues that continue to put people and families in increasingly more vulnerable positions each year. Looking ahead, the 2021 Hunger Report provides a preliminary analysis of current food bank use and finds that the record high does not appear to be reversing course and that this trend may very quickly become ‘the new normal.’ This is supported by visitor data in September 2021, which found that food bank visits were 32 percent higher than the average September for 2017-2019.

“This preliminary data tells us is that the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is still unfolding,” said Cheng. “It is critical that the Province address this crisis by implementing immediate income security measures and supports to address affordability issues today.”

Feed Ontario is calling on the Government of Ontario to make immediate investments that address this calamity we are seeing the province’s income security and affordability issues. Feed Ontario recommends immediate steps to minimize this crisis, including strengthening the social safety net by aligning rates with the poverty line, connecting people to quality employment opportunities by improving labour laws and supports for workers, and ensuring that the cost of living remains affordable by investing in more supportive housing options.

“As the province moves towards its next election, it is essential that all political parties develop strong income security and affordability solutions, and commit to working together to address food insecurity and poverty in Ontario,” says Cheng. “It is only by working together that we will be able to reverse this troubling trend and build a future where no one goes hungry.”

2021 Hunger Report Highlights and Trends

Food Bank Use Data

  • 592,308 adults and children accessed a food bank in Ontario between April 1st, 2020, to March 31st, 2021 – an increase of 10 percent over the last year and the largest single-year increase since 2009.
  • Ontario’s food banks were visited more than 3,683,000 times throughout the year, an increase of 12 percent over the previous year.
  • Rising food bank use has been a trend that predates the pandemic:
    • Since 2017, Ontario’s food banks have seen a 19 percent increase in demand and served an additional 92,893 people.
    • The proportion of senior citizens accessing a food bank in Ontario has grown by 36 percent over the previous year, and 64 percent since 2008. Senior citizens are nearly twice as likely to access a food bank compared to adults under 65 years of age.
    • While the number of children accessing food banks has decreased by 16 percent since 2008, children and youth are still two times more likely to access a food bank compared to the general population.
  • Ontario’s insufficient social assistance programs, precarious employment, and unaffordable housing are the primary drivers of food bank use:
    • 59.1 percent of food bank visitors cite social assistance as their primary source of income.
    • 44 percent increase in the number of people with employment accessing food banks for support in the four years leading up to the pandemic.
    • 86.3 percent of food bank visitors are rental or social housing tenants with over 50 percent of food bank visitors citing the inability to adequately pay for housing and utilities costs as the primary reason for food bank usage.

Case Study: The impact of COVID-19 on food bank visitors with disabilities

  • In surveying over 300 food bank visitors who self identified as having a disability, it was found that:
    • Over 60 percent of respondents have less than $100 left per month after paying for housing and utilities, including one out of five who indicated that monthly expenses currently exceed their monthly income.
    • 61 percent of respondents indicated that they were financially worse off now compared to the start of the pandemic.
    • Only 51 percent of survey respondents received additional financial support – including provincial and federal top-ups – during the pandemic.

Food Banks Services and Supports

  • In addition to emergency food support, food banks in the Feed Ontario network provide a wide range of supports and services:
    • 91 percent of food banks provide programming and services beyond emergency food support, including: home delivery programs, specialty programs for children and youth, community information and referral services, school supplies, culturally or diet specific food options, income tax preparation, counselling services, emergency shelters, and assistance with employment searches.

To download a full copy of the 2021 Hunger Report, or to find out more about food banks in Ontario, please visit: https://www.feedontario.ca/research/hunger-report-2021

About Feed Ontario:

From securing fresh and healthy food sources to driving change through policy research and innovative programming, Feed Ontario unites food banks, industry partners, and local communities in its work to end poverty and hunger. Join Feed Ontario and help build a healthier province. Every $1 raised provides the equivalent of 3 meals to an Ontarian in need. Learn more at: www.feedontario.ca

For more information, please contact:

Teju Oladoyin | Feed Ontario | teju@feedontario.ca|

Sonja Kovacev | Feed Ontario | sonja@feedontario.ca |

416-656-4100 x2941