More Canadians are using food banks, 18 per cent increase expected this year

Jun 21, 2024 | GTA/Local News, News

At the corner of the posh Dupont Street and Avenue Road neighbourhood, 50 families waited in line for over an hour under the hot sun for the Church of the Messiah food bank to open its doors.

People with baby carriages and disability strollers were the first to fill their bags.

The Avenue Food Bank in west-central Toronto opens its doors to around 450 visitors every Wednesday, some even from Mississauga.

Robert Mandel, hospitality coordinator at the Avenue Food Bank, said he estimates about $1.3 to $1.4 million of food will be given out this year.

He said it was a lot of food but there are many people in need and whose situations aren’t getting any better.

“Snow, rain. Doesn’t matter. They’re outside every Wednesday. People wait for over an hour for the doors to open,” Mandel said.

The Church of Messiah’s food bank is volunteer-run, providing three days worth of groceries every week. 60 per cent donated by the Daily Bread Food Bank and the rest is covered by financial donations.

The Daily Bread Food Bank is an organization that collaborates with other food banks to tackle food insecurity.

Food insecurity is the inability to acquire or consume an adequate diet quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so.

The biggest increase in cost over the last two years has been food, according to Statistics Canada.

Data showed that 43 per cent of Canadians surveyed reported they are most affected by food inflation. And 20 per cent of Canadians were likely to obtain food from community organizations.

Food Bank Canada’s annual poverty report indicates that poverty is about lacking more than the necessities and one in four Canadians can’t afford essentials.

The report said Ontario has a poverty rate of 10.9 per cent.

It also revealed half of Canada’s adults feel financially worse off than last year and a quarter face food insecurity.

For the longest time, the government has relied on food banks to pick up the slack of affordability, Mandel said.

One in 10 Torontonians use the food bank network.

Stephanie Cepuch, program coordinator at Avenue Food Bank, said she wasn’t surprised by that.

“Last year, it was 300,000 in a month.”

She confirmed there are 150 food banks in the city of Toronto operating on different days at different times.

Every person visits for a different reason.

People on disability get between $1,300 to $1,600 a month, from which they pay rent and other daily expenses.

“After which, I think it works out of $6 a day left for food,” Capuch said. “No one can live on that.”

Students come because they have high rents and hardly have money left after that.

For international students, in particular, there seems to be a misunderstanding that their requirement to have $10,000 was enough to cover them while in Canada. It is not, Toronto is more expensive than it seems.

New immigrants visit the food banks, some temporarily and those who’ve been coming for years, “because their situation does not improve,” Cepuch said.

People who were laid off or in-between jobs, those who work under the table and don’t want to declare it out of fear of being found out, and migrant workers who sometimes can’t afford to go home frequent the food bank.

“At the end of the day, we have people leaving work, pulling up in cars because they still struggle to make ends meet,” Mandel said.

The coordinator said that the food bank’s goal was to give food to people who didn’t have enough.

“And it’s not for us to judge where they’re coming from or why they’re asking us for food,” Mandel said.

He said three things make a food bank work efficiently: food, facility and volunteers.

“I owned a restaurant, I know what food costs and I’ve also found myself on the other side of the table when I was laid off, I know how hard it is,” Mandel said. “So I don’t turn anyone around. And when you have 35 years of experience in food, you don’t run out of food.”

He said the provincial government is to blame. They didn’t up the ante in terms of social assistance.

“And then you throw in things like pandemics and the diasporas from various countries,” Mandel said.