In March 2023, there were almost two million visits to food banks across Canada, representing a 32 per cent increase compared to March 2022, and a 78.5 per cent increase compared to March 2019, which is the highest year-over-year increase in usage ever reported.
According to the newly released Food Banks Canada HungerCount 2023 report, “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. With food banks across Canada in crisis mode, as demand reaches new all-time highs, we must ask: when is it enough before we act?” urges Kirstin Beardsley, Chief Executive Officer, Food Banks Canada.
The milestone report – the only research study encompassing the country’s 4,750+ food banks and community organizations – shows the devastating impact of rapid inflation and inadequate social supports on poverty, food insecurity and hunger in Canada.
When inflation fuels a bad situation into a full-fledged crisis
Despite years of sounding alarms and recommending much-needed solutions to address the struggles of low-income Canadians, food bank usage in 2023 rose to an unprecedented level, with over 1.9 million visits reported in the month of March alone.
Food bank visits have increased at greater and greater rates since 2019, with children representing over 600,000 food bank visits in March 2023 and food bank use among people who are employed continuing to increase to record levels.
This group of people reporting employment as their main source of income now represents nearly 17 per cent of food bank clients — the highest proportion ever.
According to HungerCount 2023 survey respondents, the top reasons people accessed a food bank this year were food costs, housing costs, and low wages or not enough hours of work.
A job is not necessarily a route out of poverty anymore. As the general cost of living in Canada has continued to rise and low-income workers flood food banks, we know many working poor are simply unable to make ends meet.
When food bank visits only show the tip of the iceberg
Not only is the level of food bank demand drastically changing, but the ability of food banks to serve those in need is also being affected.
In August 2023, the Ottawa Food Bank said high food prices were impacting donor habits and they were forced to cancel volunteer shifts due to a donation shortfall.
On behalf of Feed Ontario, which is a collective of more than 1,200 food banks and hunger-relief organizations, chief executive officer Carolyn Stewart-Stockwell forewarns that food banks may be unable to meet the demand in the province should the current pressures on the system continue.
“Food banks are extremely concerned they will not have enough food or resources to keep their doors open,” Stewart-Stockwell said. “We are hearing these concerns from food banks across the province almost every day.”
Across the country, HungerCount 2023 confirms that people in every province and territory are at a breaking point.
Food banks across Canada can’t keep up with this rate of growth and they too will soon hit a breaking point.
We need governments at all levels to hear the alarm bells and to urgently respond.
When is it enough?
Emergency food and funding is needed more than ever before, with inflation putting pressure on more food banks and pushing clients to the brink, but it is not enough to make lasting change.
The latest figures make it clear that there are far more people struggling than in recent history, and our weak social safety net is not catching them.
HungerCount 2023 tells us that it’s time to act. Now.
To create a Canada where no one is left behind, and no one goes hungry, governments must adopt a dual approach to address the root causes of food bank use by addressing low incomes and poverty and the skyrocketing costs of living.