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How do Food Banks Work in Canada?

Written by Jessica Steer
In Canada, those who have difficulty accessing food are able to access the food bank. Unfortunately, in 2023, there was a 32 percent increase compared to 2022 in food bank usage by Canadians.
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    While this is a fantastic service available to those who are having a hard time making ends meet, more and more Canadians need access to a food bank than ever before. What exactly is a food bank, though, and how can you access them if you need to?

    How Food Banks Work

    Across the country, there are thousands of food banks available to Canadians who need them. Food Banks Canada is a national organization that is dedicated to helping those in Canada who face food insecurity. As a national organization, they support 10 provincial associations and 4,750 hunger relief organizations that exist in communications throughout the country. 

    These food banks are located in different places in each community; they can be found using the online locator from Food Bank’s Canada. This will give you the address to the food bank, and through that location, you will be able to find out the days and times that they’re open. 

    How the Food Bank Acquires Food

    You may be wondering, though, where does the food at food banks come from? Well, they are acquired through food and money donations throughout the year, especially during the holiday season. There are usually locations at stores throughout the community that accept donations, but you can also donate directly to the food bank. They don’t just receive donations from the community, though. They also get donations from local businesses that have stock leftovers or extra supplies. All of these add up, and they become available to those who need them. 

    How to Qualify for the Food Bank

    The process of using a food bank in Canada is relatively simple. Most food banks require you to fill out an intake form. The information you provide on this form is confidential and helps them assess your needs and provide you with enough goods to feed your family. 

    The information they typically ask for is:

    • The number of people in your household
    • Annual household income
    • Cost of expenses

    You will also likely be asked to provide a government-issued ID and proof of address. This not only provides the food bank with the ability to get you what you need, but it also helps them to keep track of how many are in need in order to obtain enough supplies to provide for everyone. 

    Food Bank Usage by Canadians

    With the increase in the cost of living and the current affordability crisis, food bank usage is higher than ever. Based on the new report from the 2023 hunger count report, we can see a significant increase in usage over the year. Since 2019, the increase in the usage of food banks has been 79 percent higher.

    Out of everyone who uses the food bank, 33% are children. Out of the rest of the food bank users, 43.8% are single adult households. The rest of the users, 42.4%, are on government support such as disability, general welfare and provincial social assistance programs. In March of 2023 alone, 3,820,925 meals and snacks were given out. Many users actually used the program more than once in the same month. This creates a dire picture of how many Canadians are food insecure.  

    Out of all of the users of the food bank, 8% are seniors, 13.6% are on disability support, 1 in 10 receive pension income, and 1 in 6 are currently employed.  Also, 12% of food bank clients are indigenous people. When they only account for 5% of the population. This shows how disproportionately represented these groups are and how many need to use the food bank. In all of the percentages we give you, the percentage that uses the food bank is higher than how much of the population they account for. It also shows that a good portion of Canada’s population relies on the food bank so they can afford basic expenses, especially now when affordable housing is harder than ever to find. 

    Reasons for an Increase in Food Bank Users

    With the increase in food prices, as well as the cost of pretty much everything, the general population in Canada is feeling the pinch, not just those with low incomes. Even those who are in higher income brackets are having to readjust their finances to make sure they can make ends meet. While housing costs contribute to a large part of this, so do grocery prices, high living expenses and an increase in interest rates. It’s no surprise that the food bank usage increase coincided with an increase in inflation and the cost of living. In fact, food bank usage in Canada has more than doubled in less than a decade (since 2016). According to the Hungercount 2023 survey respondents, these are the main reasons for such a high level of food bank usage and why the usage rate is rising dramatically. 

    The Cost of Living in Canada

    Currently, Canada is one of the most expensive countries in the world to live in, and low-income households are struggling more than ever. Even with affordable housing, many Canadians are adjusting to the new cost of living, not just the lowest-income households and those who earn low wages. 

    With the adjustment to the cost of living, visits to food banks are for more than just people below the official poverty line and vulnerable people.  Part of the working population is also using them for various reasons. A number of people work not enough hours some months and are forced into skipping meals. They find themselves turning to food banks. Some single mothers have to use food banks and actually account for most recipients. However, more than a quarter of recipients are immigrants to Canada. 

    The Goal of Food Banks in Canada

    According to Food Bank Canada, their main goal is to “relieve hunger today and prevent hunger tomorrow.” They do this by raising awareness, providing annual funding, and advocating for the reduction of the need for food banks in Canada. The organization supports all food banks across Canada to help those who can’t get enough food and face food insecurity. 

    Best Things to Donate to Food Banks

    No matter what time of year it is, the food bank is always in need of more food. There are some everyday items that people choose to donate, like kraft dinner and canned goods. Here’s a list of things that food banks don’t get as much of that food bank users appreciate greatly. 

    • Canned proteins like fish and meat
    • Canned fruit
    • Canned vegetables
    • Whole grain rice
    • Pasta
    • Pasta sauce
    • Healthy canned soups
    • Baby formula
    • Fresh produce
    • Diapers 
    • Cereal
    • Baby jar food
    • Milk alternatives

    It’s also helpful to donate things such as can openers and other items that could be needed in order to use the items acquired from the food bank. 

    Final Thoughts

    Since 2019, nearly two million people have benefited from Canada’s food banks. There are thousands of food banks throughout the country, and they allow those who can’t afford grocery prices to feed their families. Food banks Canada also has policy recommendations on more affordable housing, northern and remote poverty and food insecurity, as well as support for low-income workers. 

    While those who are on provincial social assistance and receive stagnant payments do use the food bank, they aren’t the main users, and they only account for a portion of those in need. Many working Canadians also find themselves in need of a food bank, with the cost of living being so high. If you’re struggling with food insecurity, you can see your local food bank for a place to start. 

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