How food banks are transforming their communities one tax return at a time

The mission to end hunger in Canada involves more than filling empty stomachs. At Food Banks Canada, we know it also requires meaningful actions to help counter hunger and its root causes, which are poverty and low incomes. 

That’s why for the fourth consecutive year, with increased funding and volunteer support from our corporate sponsor, KPMG in Canada, we are expanding our National Tax Clinic program to help more people living on low incomes file their tax returns and establish eligibility for government benefits that can bolster their household finances amid the cost-of-living crisis and help them put healthy food on the table.

Tax filing can be a daunting task

Filing a tax return is often required to receive existing government benefits, such as GST/HST credits and disability supports, that can make an enormous difference for people living on low incomes who are struggling to cope with the rapid rate of food inflation, coupled with rising rental costs.

Canadians who are missing out on receiving the existing tax benefits that are available to them include racialized and Indigenous groups, newcomers, people with disabilities, seniors, and other individuals with modest incomes who aren’t aware they’re eligible or are unable to successfully file tax on their own due to experiencing too many personal, institutional, or systemic barriers. 

Lifting people out of poverty at tax time

As food bank use increases to historic levels, the 2022 tax-filing season is an important opportunity for people living on low incomes to tap into a wide range of federal and provincial tax benefits.

That’s why our National Tax Clinic program is especially vital this year. With the support of KPMG in Canada and volunteers, the Burnaby Neighbourhood House Society and Veterans Food Bank of Calgary have joined The Mississauga Food Bank, Saskatoon Food Bank & Learning Centre, Sources Community Resources Centre in Surrey and White Rock, B.C. and UHC – Hub of Opportunities in Windsor, Ont., in filing 2022 taxes on behalf of food bank clients in need.

Last year, the food banks and volunteers that participated in the program filed a total of 4,492 tax forms, returning almost $18.2 million to the pockets of vulnerable people in communities across Canada by connecting them with government benefits that allow them to improve their lives.

Returning millions to the pockets of people in need

Rudy Sawhney, a KPMG Risk Advisory Services consultant who volunteered with the UHC – Hub of Opportunities during the 2022 tax season, saw firsthand how the free in-person and virtual appointments helped alleviate some of the stress and financial hardship that is associated with filing taxes, and provided access to lump sum or periodic payments that can be life-changing for community members living on low incomes.

“Many of the clients I had appointments with were single working parents with children, so it felt good that these individuals who did not have disposable incomes were able to get some money back from the government,” Sawhney said. “Toward the end of the appointments I would tell them, ‘You’re getting this much back in GST/HST rebates, this is your climate action incentive payment, and this is your total refund,’ and when they would hear the amount, there would always be a smile on their face.”

Melissa Munger, a KPMG office manager who served as the volunteer coordinator at the UHC – Hub of Opportunities during the 2022 tax season, said having the volunteers walk low-income households through their taxes from start to finish helps ensure they not only get every dollar they deserve, but also become more confident in their own financial knowledge. 

“When all is said and done, these free tax clinics are an opportunity for volunteers to provide help, support and tax advice to modest-income individuals and families who may never have heard of CRA My Account or eligible medical expenses,” Munger said. “Next year they might know what CRA form to look for or pay more attention to the new tax credits that are available, keeping more money in their pockets and in their communities.”

When a job isn’t enough

Did you know that last year, there was a significant increase in the number of food bank clients who reported employment as their main source of income?

According to Food Banks Canada’s signature HungerCount 2022 report, the percentage of food bank clients who reported employment as their main source of income increased from 12.5 per cent in 2021 to 14.1 per cent in 2022.

These people are Canada’s working poor. Individuals who, despite their best efforts to work, still come home with too little money to feed themselves and their families.

In a country where working hard no longer means that you’re guaranteed an adequate income, people need a social safety system that guarantees their peace of mind.


Download our full HungerCount 2022 report here