Toronto-based food bank sees surge in clients amid pandemic-related food insecurity

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WATCH ABOVE: (May 6) Daily Bread Food Bank, Canada’s largest food bank, helps individuals and families year-round struggling with hunger and poverty. Now it needs your help during the COVID-19 pandemic. Susan Hay has the story – May 6, 2020

TORONTO — Food insecurity is soaring as a result of COVID-19, leading to a major spike in new food bank clients since the pandemic began, according to a report by a Toronto-based charity.

The report, published Wednesday by the Daily Bread Food Bank, reveals the rate of new clients accessing its member food banks has more than tripled over the course of the crisis.

The report says intake data from across the city found 6,100 people began accessing food banks in June, compared to 2,000 in February.

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An accompanying survey suggests about three-quarters of those new clients began accessing food banks as a direct result of the pandemic, with job losses and reduced hours cited as the major reasons.

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Neil Hetherington, CEO of Daily Bread Food Bank, said the report outlines a tale of two cities in which some residents are more vulnerable than others.

“Some have experienced the pandemic and were able to stay at home and had the choice and ability to work from home and others were not given that choice,” he said.

Of the 221 food bank clients who responded to the phone survey, 34 per cent said they would not be able to pay their rent four to six months from now.

Read more: Food banks’ demand surges amid COVID-19. Now they worry about long-term pressures

Twenty-eight per cent said they received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit but still needed to rely on food banks.

The survey also suggested the majority of the food bank’s clientele came from demographics particularly at risk of contracting COVID-19. The report said 51 per cent of respondents were over the age of 60 or have an underlying health condition.

The report said the Daily Bread Food Bank also struggled with reduced capacity at the same time as demand was surging.

It said a third of its locations were forced to close their doors during a widespread lockdown in the early days of the outbreak. The affected locations were based in shuttered community centres, run by high-risk volunteers, or housed in spaces too small to allow for physical distancing, the report stated.

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The food bank has also seen a massive reduction in food donations amid the pandemic, Hetherington said — down from roughly 454,000 kilograms in March 2019 to about 136,000 kilograms in 2020.

Despite the massive decline, however, Hetherington said there has been generosity from both everyday Canadians and different levels of government to ensure the food bank has met its goals.

With summer in full swing, he said, they are also expecting an influx of fresh produce donations from farms.

The spike in demand for food bank services was not confined to Toronto, according to the organization representing many such facilities across the province.

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Carolyn Stewart, Executive Director of Feed Ontario, said Ontario’s food bank network saw a “significant surge” in demand once a provincewide state of emercency took effect. While the organization is still analyzing data, she said much of the demand came from first-time food-bank users.

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Though lockdown measures have eased across the province, Stewart said she does not expect the need for food bank services to diminish any time soon.

“While CERB may have initially helped to flatten the curve of food bank use in some regions, we are concerned that when CERB ends, food banks across the province will see another influx in demand,” Stewart said in a statement. “We have also identified the lifting of the current ban on evictions as another point when we may see a surge in need, particularly if this happens within close proximity to CERB ending, or if low-income renters impacted by COVID-19 are faced with large rent arrears that strain or exceed already tight budgets.”

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