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Food banks bracing for increase in demand in 2024, new report finds

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Food banks and charities across Canada are bracing for an increase in demand in 2024, with more than one-third already reporting they have to turn people away.

According to the Second Harvest’s annual “Hungry for Change” study, demand across the country is expected to increase by 18 per cent. That translates to more than 1 million Canadians accessing food charity programs for the first time in 2024, the report stated.

“People in Canada can’t keep up with rising food costs,” said Lori Nikkel, CEO of Second Harvest. “More people are being pushed towards food charity, which for most people comes as a last resort. Food charities already struggle to meet the current demand, with many of them being forced to turn people away and add their names to growing waitlists for support. Our systems are buckling under the pressure.”

In Toronto, demand is expected to increase even more, as high as 30 per cent.

For many clients, it’s a difficult choice of paying for bills or groceries.

“It’s hard, I feel pressure,” said Christian Herrera, who lined up at the Fort York Food Bank for the first time after recently being laid-off from his construction job. “After I pay rent I have no money.”

Food banks and non-profits have been experiencing unprecedented demand while facing resource challenges, forcing many organizations to turn clients away or put them on waitlists.

Second Harvest surveyed more than 1,400 non-profit food programs and found that 36 per cent have a waitlist. In Toronto, that number is even higher at 50 per cent.

“We're absolutely seeing an increase and it has not stopped. So we've had to, because of limited resources, we had to limit our catchment areas, so that in turn makes people go other places,” said Aretha Khaloo, the director of Operations at Haven on the Queensway.

The small Etobicoke food bank serves more than one thousand clients every week, with between 40 to 60 people put on a waitlist.

“We have limited space, so we have food that comes in on Tuesday and we give it out right away. On top of that food, we would love to give out as much fresh food, as much fresh water and produce and all of that. However, we don't have that coming in,” said Khaloo.

Haven has already seen its demand increase by 38 percent from last year, and concern is mounting about that demand continuing to rise.

“We're going to have to do a lot of praying to be able to meet the demand - we will do our best,” said Khaloo. “At this point, where we're looking for help, we're looking for financial support, we're looking for community support and government support.”

Second Harvest is calling on the federal and provincial governments to bring back the Surplus Food Rescue Program, expanding the eligibility for the GST Grocery Rebate, increasing minimum wages and social assistance rates and lowering taxes for the lowest income households.

“Food charity is not a sustainable solution to food insecurity, it’s a band-aid for a gaping wound,” said Nikkel. “Starting now, we need to treat the cause of food insecurity, not just the symptoms. Solutions that address poverty and provide quick relief are sorely needed.”

At the municipal level, Second Harvest is advocating for a mandated surplus edible food redistribution from food businesses, distributors, street festivals and events and policy related to the measurement and reporting of food waste by businesses.

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