Rising inflation fuels Toronto food bank use

Record high inflation is fueling the use of food banks in Toronto, with many of them running out of daily supplies.

“Our shelves are empty again,” Julie LeJeune, the executive director of Fort York Food Bank, told the Star Tuesday after being open for three hours. “After serving 95 people today, I have one can of beans left and no pasta sauce.”

Toronto’s high housing costs and the end of pandemic support programs had already led to an increase in the number of families dependent on food banks for survival, a situation exacerbated by the recent rise in gas and food prices.

Inflation in Canada is at its highest level since 1991, reaching 6.7 percent in March. The war in Ukraine and supply chain problems have resulted in food prices increasing by 8.7 percent between March 2021 and March this year, according to Statistics Canada.

Inflation means there is less money for people to buy groceries that have become more expensive, and many are turning to food banks.

In March 2019, there were 60,000 customer visits to food banks across Canada. In March of this year, that number rose to 160,000, said Neil Hetherington, CEO of the Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto. That month, in Toronto alone, 5,700 people made use of food banks for the first time.

“The new faces that come to food banks are people who have jobs, they work hard,” he said, adding that half of the people who use food banks have had post-secondary education.

Recent inflation has exacerbated affordability problems, especially when pandemic support programs ended, he said.

“We’ve come here because we’ve made drastic cuts in income support… and none of it has kept pace with inflation,” he said.

“From an affordability standpoint, it’s hard to find a place to live and an income that can support you and your family.”

The Daily Bread Food Bank sends 80,000 pounds of food to local food banks every day — three times more than before the pandemic, Hetherington said.

“We’ve had to proactively increase the amount of food so that they don’t run out of shortages,” he added.

LeJeune said her food bank was temporarily out of supplies on Saturday, but the community organized to raise more.

At the Lighthouse Community Center on Bathurst Street, the food bank is also running out of daily supplies earlier than usual, said Tabatha Eastman, the center’s director of neighborhood programs.

Last summer it was able to stay open from noon to 3pm without running out of food. Since the beginning of the year, daily supplies have run out at 1:30 p.m., Eastman said.

People who have to use food banks several days a week show the need for social support and funding interventions, Hetherington said.

“We need to have an honest conversation about how we want to treat the most vulnerable,” he said.

With files of Rosa Saba and Ben Cohen.

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