The right to adequate food is a basic human right recognized under international law. Yet, in Ontario — and Greater Sudbury — the number of people accessing food banks continues to increase exponentially.
Feed Ontario released its 2023 Hunger Report on Monday, revealing that more than 800,000 people accessed emergency food support last year, which marks an increase of 38 per cent over the previous year and the largest single-year increase recorded by the province’s food bank network.
In Greater Sudbury, food bank usage has been increasing over the last six to seven consecutive years, with a 30 per cent increase alone experienced by food program providers within the last year, said Dan Xilon, executive director of the Sudbury Food Bank, an organization that supports 44 food banks and meal providers across Greater Sudbury. School breakfast programs and meals provided through shelters also fall within the organization’s jurisdiction.
Currently, it receives 17,000 requests for service and support a month, which has increased from from 13,000 to 14,000 requests a month during the same time last year.
“We’ve been on this nonstop increase in usage for the last six or seven years,” said Xilon. “It doesn’t ever seem to be going down.”
In September the Sudbury Food Bank appealed to the public for donations because their supply was low. Xilon said the organization was able to bounce back following the public appeal and now with the holiday season around the corner, it will rely again on community support, like it has in previous seasons, with campaigns like the Edgar Burton food drive that aim to replenish food bank shelves.
While the majority of people requesting services access the Ontario Disability Support Program or Ontario Works, there is a new trend emerging. For the first time, the organization is serving more people who are employed yet accessing food banks and programs.
“We’ve never had that before,” said Xilon. “If you compare that to 2016/2017, that figure has gone through the roof, probably bigger than the 30 per cent increase overall.”
More newcomers and seniors are also accessing food bank services, said Xilon.
In October, there was a 13 per cent increase in the number of seniors accessing food banks.
“There are many wonderful newcomers in the community, which will be fantastic for us,” he said. “We certainly need them and that will work itself out eventually but right now they need help.”
The increase in food bank usage among seniors, newcomers and the employed could improve within the coming years; however, it could also continue to increase, said Xilon.
“How high it is going to get, that we have no idea,” he said. “We can’t forecast how high it’s going to get. Every time we get a number, we say it can’t get any higher than this, then it winds up going up. There are a lot of reasons for that, but you have to remember we are a very small cog in the wheel. All we do is feed people in emergency situations. We don’t have anything to do with housing or services.”
The 2023 Hunger Report says more than 800,000 people in the province turned to emergency food support between April 1, 2022, and March 31, 2023, and that the total number of visits to food banks also rose similarly in that time, totalling more than 5.9 million, or 36 per cent more than the previous year. Much of the growth came from first-time visitors, who accounted for two out of five people who used food banks. The report notes that’s a 41 per cent increase from the previous year.
The 2023 Hunger Report points to precarious work, the erosion of social support programs and a lack of affordable housing as longstanding factors, with the skyrocketing cost of living as a more recent contributor. In addition, the report says food bank use has continued to rise even though the unemployment rate returned to pre-pandemic levels in 2022.
It notes more workers are turning to food banks, with one in six food bank visitors citing employment as their main source of income in the period covered by the report. That represents a 37 per cent increase over the previous year and an 82 per cent increase over 2016-17, the report says.
“It used to be that having a job meant that you would not need to access a food bank,” Feed Ontario’s chief executive officer, Carolyn Stewart, wrote in a statement.
“This is no longer the case. Working Ontarians are having trouble earning enough income to afford today’s cost of living, even when working multiple jobs or trying to cut expenses.”
– with files from the Canadian Press.
The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.
By Laura Stradiotto, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Nov 28, 2023 at 02:27