“Dramatic and alarming increase” in food bank use reported in Burlington

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Published December 7, 2023 at 1:12 pm

Anthony Urciuoli/hamilton.insauga.com photo
The Burlington Food Bank has seen an increase in clients - Photo courtesy of the Burlington Food Bank's Facebook page

With the holiday season officially upon us, food banks across Canada are working to raise awareness and donations at a time when food bank use is at an all-time high–and the situation in Burlington is no different. 

According to Feed Ontario’s 2023 Hunger Report, food bank use in the province remains significantly elevated, with 2023 marking the seventh consecutive year of increased use. According to the report, 800,822 adults and children used a food bank in Ontario between April 1, 2022, and March 31, 2023 – an increase of 38 percent over last year and 60 percent over pre-pandemic levels.

The report says Ontario’s food banks were visited 5,888,685 times throughout the year–up 36 percent over last year and 101 percent over pre-pandemic levels.

The Burlington Food Bank’s 2022/2023 Hunger Report says the same cross-Ontario trend has been observed in the city. 

“Since the Burlington Food Bank began in 1991, the number of people requesting our help has steadily continued to rise year over year. However, the last three years have seen a dramatic and alarming increase in the number of people using our services,” the report reads.

“Unfortunately, these numbers are not all that unusual as you compare them to national or even global trends.” 

The report says that a combination of inflation, rising unemployment rates and increasing housing costs (the average home price in Burlington hit $1,022,569 in November and in October, the average monthly rate for a one-bedroom apartment hit $2,189) have put pressure on food banks across the country. 

The Burlington Food Bank’s report says that not only is the organization seeing an uptick in use, but it’s also seeing changes in who uses its services. 

“Alongside the startling rise in the number of requests for assistance, we’ve also experienced several shifts in who was using the Food Bank in 2022 and also why they were using it,” the report reads.

According to the report, the number of people served by the food bank increased 14 per cent from 2020 to 2022, while the total number of visits climbed 42 per cent. The report says that in 2019, the food bank served 1,895 individuals. In 2020, that number climbed to 3,081 because of the impact of pandemic-related lockdowns. In 2021, the number remained relatively unchanged and in 2022, 3,517 people used the service. 

The Food Bank recorded a total of 10,522 visits in 2019. In 2022, it received 20,420 visits–an 18 per cent increase.

“Historically, the Burlington Food Bank served about 12 families a day. Now we serve somewhere between 30 to 35 families daily. We’ve seen a 150 percent increase,” the report reads. 

The report says the situation in Burlington is more alarming than in other parts of the province, with data showing a 94 percent increase in the total number of visits recorded during a four-year window. 

“When comparing this to Ontario (at 43 percent) and the whole of Canada (at 35 percent) we have to ask ourselves why Burlington saw such a massive increase in those four years and what can be done about it,” the report reads. 

Who is using the food bank in Burlington?

As for who is using the food bank, the report says food insecurity in Burlington is “well-hidden” and found in every demographic. That said, the report says some groups are struggling more with poverty. 

The report says the organization has seen a significant increase in the number of seniors using its services. In 2022, the food bank observed a 312 percent increase compared to 2018. The report says that since seniors are more likely to live on fixed incomes, they’re hit harder by cost-of-living increases.

The report says one other less discouraging reason for increased use is its delivery program, which allowed goods from the Plains Road East location to reach community members who couldn’t easily travel to pick up food. 

The report says the food bank plans to continue to deliver indefinitely. 

The report also says that new Canadians are using the food bank for longer due to inconsistencies in the job market. 

“It used to be that a new family immigrating to Canada would come maybe once or twice to visit us and then we would never see them again because they had found meaningful work,” the report reads, adding that the Food Banks Canada HungerCount report found that one-in-seven food bank users are employed. 

The food bank has also seen an uptick in refugee clients, such as those who recently moved to Canada from Ukraine. 

The report says that children 18 and under make up the largest proportion of people served by the food bank. 

“A lack of food can impact not just a child’s physical development but also their intellectual development, mental health, social development, and education. If a family with children is struggling with food insecurity right now and those children are not eating well, their future begins to look a lot bleaker,” the report reads.

The report says that in 2022, the food bank distributed school snacks to 4,789 families with children under 12. 

What’s driving food bank use up?

According to the report, a number of factors are putting financial strain on Burlington residents, but one key factor is the inadequacy of Ontario’s current minimum wage of $15.50 (which the report says is still low) and the decline of full-time jobs. 

“We saw that with the increase in the Ontario minimum wage came the disappearance of a lot of full-time jobs. Companies were soon finding that it cost them too much in benefits and overtime on top of the mandatory pay increase,” the report reads, adding that the Feed Ontario report also found that 22 percent of Canadian professionals are precariously employed. 

The report also said housing costs are leaving people with little money for food. With mortgage rates climbing due to interest rate hikes, some residents are left deciding whether to cover their housing costs or buy food. 

The Feed Ontario report says two in three food clients were left with less than $100 after paying their monthly housing costs. 

The report says it also sees clients relying on social assistance programs such as Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program who do not have enough money left over to afford food. 

What’s next?

While the facts are discouraging, the food bank says it’s encouraged by how many people have been able to seek help.

“All of the crises that we’ve faced over the past few years have allowed more people to reach out for help when they need it. Over the last three years, we have met first-time clients who have needed our help for a long time, but there were barriers keeping them from coming in,” the report says. 

“We have worked hard to make the necessary changes to remove those barriers.” 

The report says community members who wish can help can do so by raising awareness, organizing food drives and donating, with monthly donations encouraged. 

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