Food bank use is at an all-time high in Canada, with families facing a choice between paying rent or eating, the head of Food Banks Canada said Wednesday.
"This year, we are seeing a trend that we have not previously observed," the organization said in its "Hunger Count Report for 2022."
"Despite the unemployment rate being at 5.3%, food banks visits are the highest they have ever been."
The report provided a "snapshot" of usage that showed almost 1.5 million visits to food banks in March. That is an increase of 15% for the same period in 2021.
The situation may be worse with not all visits being counted because the snapshot means not all food banks reported the number of visits. A Statistics Canada report released in July found that in 2021, 5.8 million Canadians lived in what is called food-insecure homes.
"(These are people) who are going into work and having to say, 'Am I going to pay my rent this month or buy food for my kids?’" Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Food Banks Canada Kirstin Beardsley told CTVNews on Wednesday. "It's the human toll of being in a situation where you have to make a choice like that. It's really awful."
The steep increase in March also marks the first time those using food banks but had a source of income increased – 14.1% so far this year.
"According to the survey respondents (food banks contacted), the top three reasons people accessed a food bank this year were food costs, low provincial social assistance rates, and housing costs," said the report. "Provincial social assistance is the main source of income for nearly 50% of food bank clients."
Officials said the statistics prove that, among other supports, a minimum income is needed to keep people from falling into poverty, as well as affordable housing.