Ontario has seen a 26.5% increase in first-time visitors at food banks across the province since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Feed Ontario.

In their 2020 hunger report, Feed Ontario says Ontario residents are reporting concerns of increasing debt, job insecurity and uncertainty for the future of Canada.

Government support helped lessen the need for food banks at the onset in March, but as the benefit programs like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) have run out, food banks are reporting rapid growth in the use of their services.

“With the onset of COVID-19, people across Ontario and Canada have been faced with extensive job losses, closures, and increased stress as we continue to face the uncertainty of how long this pandemic will last and to what extent it will impact our economy and the long-term health and wellbeing of Canadians in the years that follow,” writes the report. 

Before the pandemic, food bank usage in Ontario was already on the rise. Between April 2019 to March 2020, over half a million people accessed food security services, a 5.3% increase since 2018. The total number of visits was at 3,282,500, a 7.3% increase since their previous hunger report.

Half of surveyed visitors to food banks said they are worried about eviction or defaulting on their mortgage in the next two to six months. When asked if they had to borrow money, take a payday loan or use credit to pay for monthly necessities, 93% reported they had.

The report concluded that there is an inadequate safety net in place for those on social assistance, causing people who already rely on government benefits to become food insecure. Most food bank users were already on social assistance.

With benefits programs ending and the pandemic still affecting Canada with closures, lockdowns, and layoffs, Feed Ontario expects the food bank network will continue to see a steady increase in the need for their services.

In September, it was revealed that government lockdowns have led to a dramatic spike in the cost of food across Canada.

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