Food Banks nationwide are witnessing a distressing increase in visits as Canadians grapple with food insecurity due to rising living costs.
Recent data from Food Banks Canada HungerCounts report shows a near 2 million visit increase to food banks across Canada between March 2022 to March 2023, a 32 per cent leap, making it the highest year-over-year ever documented.
Even more alarming is the 78.5 per cent rise compared to March 2019.
The Waterloo Region Food Bank, in particular, is seeing an all-time high, with an 111 per cent increase since 2019, and a 47 per cent rise just in the last year.
“The food bank is seeing the highest need for food assistance in our almost 40 year history,” says Michelle Rickard of the Waterloo Region Food Bank.
The organization distributes over five million pounds of food that is fresh, frozen, and non-perishable to the Community Food Assistance Network, which consists of over 120 community programs and agencies.
“One in ten households in the region are now using a food assistance program,” Rickard remarked. “It really goes to show that when you are out walking along your street and you just count 10 houses, somebody is struggling to afford to put food on the table.”
With the cost of everything going up, many students have been relying on community food banks. “There has been a 200 per cent increase since 2019 in the number of post-secondary students accessing food assistance across Waterloo region,” Rickard states.
To tackle this, the college has tripled its food assistance budget to $900,000 to make sure students get the help they need. Nelson Chukwuma, President of Conestoga Student Inc., said they had to act fast to meet the needs of students.
By tripling the budget, the college hopes to ease the load on community food banks. “Conestoga College students were overwhelming food banks in the region…we want students to come to us first,” Chukwuma says.
The Nutritional Access Program is available to Conestoga students who are in dire financial need. Students can apply but have to meet certain qualifications to be accepted. For more information on the program click here.
Rickard says, “it’s going to take a collective effort of everyone, including government, to make the necessary changes to address poverty and hunger in our community.”