The hub that supplies food banks across Hamilton, Ont. is bracing for the possibility of its busiest Christmas season ever after revealing a third of users during this past year had never been there before.
Food Share’s latest hunger report says the overall need for the service is up 40 per cent year-over-year, with about 34 per cent of all visitors experiencing the process for the first time.
Resource development manager Ashley Mitchell says those who have been already reliant on the system for more than a year also made additional visits in 2023.
“Families, individuals, couples and not only just people that are experiencing hunger, but also people that have full-time jobs, have part-time jobs,” Mitchell revealed. “These are people that haven’t necessarily needed the food bank system before and maybe aren’t the type of person you typically think of that are leaning on a food bank.”
User surveys estimate about 58 per cent of households are spending more than 50 per cent on rent alone.
“So when you’re already spending so much of your dollars just to pay your basic needs, like rent, utilities, the groceries come last,” Mitchell suggested.
A number of food banks across the province are reporting increases in the number of people visiting them, including Waterloo Region, which recently reported a 43 per cent uptick from a year earlier.
A spokesperson for the food bank said that more than 23,000 people were helped by the Community Food Assistance Network in October. Close to 2,000 of those users were students.
“We have had about a 200 per cent increase in those who specifically identified as a student access our food assistance programs,” interim CEO for the Waterloo Region Food Bank Kim Wilhelm said.
Mitchell says the Hamilton outlet doesn’t have any data pointing to a growing rate of usage from international students, but she suspects there is.
“Are we seeing more international students? Probably,” said Mitchell. “But are we seeing more of everyone in our community? That is really the more staggering stat that we’re looking at from last year to this year.”
Food banks in Hamilton are set to receive an emergency grant of $625,000 after a fall ask of city council.
It comes as the agency experiences significant decreases in donations previously filled with corporate and private entities.
A delegate from Hamilton Food Share told councillors in October that food purchasing has grown by 624 per cent over the last four years moving from $193,326 in 2019 to $1.4 million in 2023.
During a staff presentation, the Emergency Food Strategic Planning Committee provided a snapshot from March that highlighted visits from seniors, which climbed 24 per cent that month to just under 2,000 visits over the 30 days.
The committee, which is a collective of 16 hunger-relief programs, has submitted an annual request for $1.25 million via the city’s budget process to ensure they can continue to meet demand.
Mitchell figures they’ll serve some 12,000 households that need support this coming holiday season.
“We want everyone to have the opportunity to celebrate Christmas … and we don’t want food insecurity to be a barrier toward that,” said Mitchell.
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