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by Eden Debebe

Local food banks are struggling to keep up with a rising demand in services through the COVID-19 pandemic, but records show food insecurity has been an issue long before the pandemic began.

The annual Who’s Hungry report is put out by the Daily Bread Food Bank in collaboration with North York Harvest at the end of each year, outlining the current state of food security and poverty in the GTA.

The 2020 report shows visits spiking up from a 22 per cent increase in June to a staggering 51 per cent in August compared to levels last year. But as Daily Bread CEO Neil Hetherington points out, data from 2019 shows food banks already hitting peaks similar to those seen during the 2008 financial crisis.

“Food insecurity was a problem prior to the pandemic,” Hetherington. said.

“Too many people were already living close to the edge. Individuals who are making use of foodbanks now are also coming from the areas hardest hit by COVID-19. The map of COVID cases overlaps almost perfectly with the map of individuals who are having to make use of foodbanks.”

According to Talia Bronstein, vice president of research and advocacy at Daily Bread, there are a wide variety of at-risk communities suffering during the pandemic; a tough living situation made even worse for those who were already struggling to stay afloat.

“People living with disabilities, people who are living on social assistance because the income rates are so below the poverty line,” Bronstein said.

“People with precarious employment, so they might have part time earnings and may struggle to make ends meet. We also saw it in people in racialized communities, particularly Black and Indigenous households.”

New Daily Bread data shows most clients struggle to afford both food and adequate housing, with 67 per cent of survey respondents holding precarious jobs that don’t provide medical, dental or retirement benefits. Survey results also showed that even those who did not live in subsidized housing were still at a high-risk of homelessness.

“It’s sad,” Hetherington said.

“It’s difficult. But it’s also hopeful. There are a whole host of recommendations in this report that lay out a clear path for all levels of government to be able to change things. First, we want to make sure that decent affordable housing is built. Second, we want to make sure that peoples income rise at a rate that is appropriate for the cost of the city we live in. The third thing, we want to make sure there are pathways out of poverty that include employment.”

With officials expecting 2020 to bring the highest number of food bank visits ever recorded in the city, Hetherington just wants people to know about the free aid and services at their disposal.

“For individuals currently finding themselves in a difficult position, needing to use food banks, we hope that they know that we are their partner….in advocating for systemic change,” Hetherington said.

“We have clear solutions that can allow us to build back from this pandemic in a way that represents the Canadian values we all share.”