More people are using food banks in N.L., with visits up by more than 12%
Increased food and housing costs, low income driving increase, report finds
A new report from Food Banks Canada has found that visits to food banks in Newfoundland and Labrador are up more than 12 per cent over last year.
The Hunger Count report, released Wednesday, is based on surveys sent to food security organizations across the country, tracking their usage in the month of March.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, 62 food banks provided data for the study. In all, 15,425 visits were made to the province's food banks, providing almost 25,000 meals and snacks.
That's a 12.4 per cent increase from March 2022, and more than a 44 per cent increase since March 2019.
Food banks right across the country are facing the same challenges, as the report found food bank usage is at its highest level since Food Banks Canada started tracking the numbers in 1989.
Nationally, nearly two million people used food banks in March 2023, up 32 per cent from the same month last year — which was itself a record — and more than 78 per cent higher than in March 2019.
Cost of living driving increase
The report points to inflation and the increasing cost of essentials, like food, housing and transportation, as a driver behind increased visits to food banks.
Survey respondents said food costs, housing costs and low wages or not enough hours of work were the main reasons they were going to a food bank.
"It isn't just those at the lowest ends of the economic spectrum who are suffering. Many people who never thought they would need to turn to a food bank are walking through our doors for the first time," the report reads.
"As the purchasing power of households continues to drop, more households, including those in higher income brackets, are experiencing food insecurity."
It's all played out in Newfoundland and Labrador in recent months. The food bank on Memorial University's St. John's campus has seen demand double, while a food bank in Carbonear is now seeing some former donors seeking help.
Who's using the food bank?
The report found that children are using food banks at a disproportionate rate. More than one-third of visits to the province's food banks — 5,305 in total — were children, while children only represent about 20 per cent of the general population.
About 10 per cent of Newfoundland and Labrador's food bank users are seniors, the highest proportion in the country.
The province does buck some national trends highlighted by the Hunger Count report, with a larger proportion of users on social assistance and fewer "working poor" than elsewhere in Canada.
Nearly 65 per cent of food bank users in Newfoundland and Labrador say social assistance is their primary source of income, money that the report argues isn't enough to make ends meet.
"Provincial social assistance rates are so low that all household types receiving social assistance live below the official poverty line in almost every province and territory," it reads
"In many cases, the real dollar value of these rates has barely risen compared to 30 years ago — and in some cases has actually declined."
Twelve per cent of the province's food bank users are pensioners, while 5.6 per cent work but don't have enough to make ends meet, a rate well below the rest of the country.
About half are single people, while single-parent families make up 22.6 per cent.
According to the report, half of those accessing food banks in the province are renting, while 26.5 per cent live in social housing. Twenty per cent own their own homes, meaning more homeowners use food banks here than anywhere else in Canada.
More people accessing food banks are Indigenous or newcomers to Canada, but that data isn't broken down by province.
It's a bleak picture that Food Banks Canada says requires action to address both low incomes as well as the skyrocketing costs of living — not one or the other.
"Food banks across Canada can't keep up with this rate of growth and they too will soon hit a breaking point. Food bank visits have long been a 'canary in the coal mine' of our collective well-being — and now the canary is on its last breath," it reads.
"We believe that if we focus on addressing both affordability issues (such as affordable housing) along with fixing our broken social safety net (such as better supports for low income workers, single adults and people with disabilities), a better path forward is possible — one that leads to a Canada where no one goes hungry."