On Dec. 2, the Ontario Association of Food Banks released its 2018 Hunger Report, which demonstrated that the Waterloo Region’s demand for food assistance has remained consistent with previous years.
The annual report provides Ontarians with a breakdown of food insecurity and food bank usage within the province.
According to the Hunger Report, last year 34,408 individuals in the region received food assistance. In comparison, according to the Hunger Count Survey, in 2016, 32,640 individuals in the region received food assistance. This means that the number of individuals using food banks has increased by 5.13 per cent.
Below is a map that represents the total number of household visits to food assistance programs in the Waterloo Region.
“There is a consistent need for food assistance in Waterloo Region and we anticipate similar volumes of food throughout the holiday season,” said Jennifer Judges, communications specialist at The Food Bank of Waterloo Region. “It is important we acquire enough food and fund donations to provide much-needed food for the 34,408 men, women and children in Waterloo Region in need of food assistance.”
On Jan. 1, 2017, the Ontario Liberal government increased the minimum wage from $11.60 to $14. This $2.40 increase was made in an effort to alleviate the high cost of living for famiies; however, the demand on food banks has remained consistent despite the increase.
Employment in the Waterloo Region has also seen an increase, all while the demand on food banks remain. According to the 2017 Labour Force Report, employment in the Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo (KCW) census metropolitan area (CMA) was 287,800, and the employment rate was 66.6 per cent. According to the 2016 Labour Force Report, employment in the KCW CMA was 281,000. This means that 6,800 more people were in the work force in 2017 than in 2016; however, food banks remained actively used.
“The need for food assistance remains consistent,” said Wendi Campbell, CEO The Food Bank of Waterloo Region in a press release this week.
“The data is telling us that people access food support as a short-term solution; however, the support is always available for those who need it. Thirty-six per cent of households that accessed food assistance in 2016 are no longer accessing food assistance, which represents 4,700 households and over 9,400 individuals. In 2017, there were 4,100 new families that accessed food support for the first time.”
According to the report, 51 per cent of individuals accessing food assistance in the region were single, 19 per cent were single-parent families, 17 per cent were two-parent families, six per cent were couples without children and seven per cent had other circumstances.
Although the report showed a 10-per-cent provincewide increase in the number of senior citizens requiring emergency food and support — a growth rate nearly three times faster than that of Ontario’s senior population — only four per cent of individuals accessing food assistance in the Waterloo Region were seniors, with 11 per cent of them accessing emergency food hampers 12 or more times a year.
The report did, however, demonstrate the demand for food assistance for the younger generation. Thirty-five per cent of individuals that accessed food assistance was under the age of 18.
Compared to Ontario and Canada, Waterloo Region’s population is younger on average. This is because of the large numbers of students, as well as young families attracted to a low cost of living. This would also explain why the Waterloo Region seems to go against the overall provincial trends that the 2018 Hunger Report demonstrated.
The Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB) network of members and agencies participates in Food Banks Canada’s National Hunger Count Survey every March. The information that is collected analyzes yearly trends related to food insecurity and the food bank use and provides an in-depth analysis of food bank use statistics, client demographics, and the interconnected challenges of poverty and hunger within the province.
The Food Bank of Waterloo Region is a community-funded organization that distributes more than four million pounds of food annually. Donations from the public helped it distribute more than four million pounds of food annually, supporting a network of 100+ community programs and agency partners.
Judges encourages community supporters to “get creative” and “have fun” when donating.
“The community can make a difference in the following ways:
Donate Food – purchase some of our most needed items (or items of your choice) and donate them to The Food Bank (you can donate them to The Food Bank bin at your local grocery store or at local police and fire halls 24/7).
Donate Funds – you can donate in person at The Food Bank, 50 Alpine Court, Kitchener, Ont., or online at thefoodbank.ca/donate.
Donate Time – The food bank is always looking for people to volunteer. “You can learn more on our Get Involved page,” said Judge.
The next hunger report will be released December 2019.