Kitchener-Waterloo

20% increase in visits to Canadian food banks over pandemic, report finds

There was a 20 per cent increase in visits to food banks across Canada during the pandemic, according to a new report from Food Banks Canada. It's the largest increase since the Great Recession in 2008, and organizations are bracing for numbers to spike even more in the months ahead.

Report recommends rent support and low-income adults prioritized

Official says Waterloo region saw a 26 percent increase in food distribution compared to 2019 and a 36 percent increase in food hamper distribution. (Submitted by the Food Bank of Waterloo Region)

There was a 20 per cent increase in visits to food banks across Canada during the pandemic, according to a new report from Food Banks Canada.

Waterloo region saw a 26 percent increase in food distribution and a 36 percent increase in food hamper use compared to 2019.

It's the largest increase since the Great Recession in 2008, and organizations are bracing for numbers to spike even more in the months ahead.

The Food Banks Canada HungerCount 2021 report, released on Thursday, suggests conditions are being impacted by  the pandemic that saw high housing costs, job losses and rising food costs. Those factors and an anticipated pull-back on government support may worsen conditions, the report suggests.

"It's creating a perfect storm," said Wendi Campbell, CEO of the Food Bank of Waterloo Region,

"We are bracing for what's next. We knew this at the beginning of the pandemic. We knew at some point all of these things were going to really bubble up and it's coming and we need to be prepared as food banks, as partners across our province and across the country," she added. 

Report findings 

The report gathered data from more than 4750 food banks and community organizations from all corners of the country, including each province and territory. 

The reports main findings include:

  • 20.3 per cent increase in visits, which translates to 1.3 million visits. 
  • One in three clients are children.
  • More than one in four food banks located in bigger cities saw their usage double during pandemic.
  • 27 per cent of Canadians using food banks are on fixed incomes such as pensions of disability benefits. 
  • Food banks in urban centres were more accessed by racialized people. 
  • Job losses led to an increase in demand at urban food banks.
A snapshot of top reasons why people use the food bank. (Food Banks Canada HungerCount 2021 report)

The provinces experiencing the largest increases compared to 2019 include:

  • Quebec with a 38 per cent increase/474,000 visits
  • Alberta with about a 30 per cent increase/116,000 visits
  • Ontario with a 23 per cent increase/419,009 visits 

Campbell said, locally, organizations have worked hard to ensure no one in need gets turned away.

"We were prepared, to some extent, for the pandemic through our innovative food system here in Waterloo Region, through our network of supports and programs that we have [and] through pandemic planning that we had done years prior. It put us in a good situation to to meet that growing need," she said.

The report suggests government support such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) helped temporarily flatten some visits. 

Next steps

The report highlights several recommendations to be considered to tackle the increase in demand. 

It calls for a national rent support program to help people living with low income. About 67 per cent of current clients live in rental housing and 46 per cent of clients say the cost of housing is their biggest obstacle in affording food.

The report also wants to see low-income, working adults prioritized in future poverty reduction measures. Almost 50 per cent of users are adults who live alone and they are overrepresented in food banks. 

Advocates also want to see an overhaul of "outdated" employment insurance policies and instead expand eligibility requirements and earnings for workers. 

"We have a unique opportunity here now to have some conversations about what we have learned during this pandemic and what works and what doesn't work and what we can do working together to improve food security for citizens of this country," said Campbell.

She said Waterloo region is working on a plan with community partners to ensure they meet future need.

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