Food insecurity in Jane-Finch area soars as annual provincial funding for support runs out
Organizations that rely on provincial funding await Ontario budget on March 24
Organizations trying to help food insecure families amid the pandemic in the Greater Toronto Area say they are struggling to keep up with demand as this year's provincial funding comes to an end — and they're worried they won't get enough help in the province's annual budget later this month.
"The concern right now is the need, and the funding is based on the province's fiscal year, which ends March 31. The need is not stopping March 31, we know that," said Michelle Dagnino, executive director of the Jane Finch community centre.
On Friday, boxes of food were delivered to families in need in the Jane and Finch area as part of an initiative involving non-profit organizations like Remember the 400 and African Food Basket.
Dagnino said a lot of families were living on the edge before the pandemic, and COVID-19 only made food insecurity worse in the community as people lost their jobs and food became harder to attain.
In particular, food insecurity has been a major symptom of job loss in Toronto that's disproportionately affected people of colour, according to a November report by a charity called the Toronto Foundation.
Since the start of the pandemic, Dagnino said truckloads of food have been delivered weekly to families in need in the Jane and Finch area, but the provincial funding isn't enough to sustain it.
WATCH | COVID-19 is still impacting food insecurity in Jane and Finch neighbourhood
Zakiya Tafari runs the African Food Bank, a non-profit organization that's been championing Black food security in Toronto and is one of the many organizations providing food in the Jane and Finch area.
He said over the past year, his food program went from supporting 80 households a week to 500 households in the second lockdown of the pandemic.
"Prior to COVID-19, 24 per cent of Black households in Toronto were food insecure," Tafari said. "We knew that with the lockdown measures with COVID last year that that was going to be magnified."
Tafari said his program, called Black Food Toronto, provides emergency food support to African-Caribbean households in Toronto, primarily those who are seniors and low-income families. Since last month, he said they've supported over 11,000 households.
Most of the provincial funding these organizations are tapping into ends in March, making it difficult for them to keep up with the high demand.
Organizations await more funding in Ontario budget
The province is set to release its yearly budget on March 24. Organizations say they're waiting to see how much funding they'll secure in the upcoming year and whether it will be enough.
"As of now, we don't how we're going to be able to sustain what we're doing past the end of March," Tafari said.
He said he is concerned about the budget, seeing as he already has a wait list of over 2,000 families for his emergency food support.
Tafari added that while the provincial government has said it is committed to addressing poverty and has made some funds available, he hasn't seen exactly where to apply for those funds yet.
"The provincial funding hasn't been enough as is — it's been supplemented through other organizations and through other supports, including United Way and other charities," said Dagnino.
CBC Toronto reached out to the province to ask if funding for groups like the African Food Basket would continue.
A spokesperson said Ontario has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in relief funds for the most vulnerable during the pandemic, adding that municipalities also have the flexibility to decide how to use that funding.
Jane and Finch area MPP pushing for more help
Tom Rakocevic, the NDP MPP for Humber River–Black Creek in the Jane and Finch area, said he is pushing for more provincial help.
Since the onset of the pandemic, Rakocevic said the need has been "far, far greater" for people facing food insecurity, which he says has always been a problem in the community
He said residents rely heavily on the organizations' support and are hoping for it to continue.
Rakocevic said he is hesitant to hold out hope for proper funding for these organizations in the Ford government's annual budget.
"You never know with this government what could be cut," he said.
"We're certainly going to be watching very closely and advocating for programs and funding to continue, and in fact in many cases, be increased."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
With files from Greg Ross