Ontario Association of Food Banks Release Report on Impact of Economic Downturn

The Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB) is a a network of food banks across the province including 100 communities across Ontario, from Ottawa to Windsor and Thunder Bay to Niagara Falls. The organization has helped serve its members since 1992 and has four major aims to achieve its vision of working towards a hunger-free Ontario.We acquire and distribute food across Ontario. With the help of our dedicated partners, the OAFB obtains and ships perishable and non-perishable food from our donors to food banks in communities across the province. In 2008, we acquired and distributed seven million pounds of food across Ontario.

We ensure member food banks meet certain standards of safety, quality and ethics. Food banks have a responsibility to the communities that they serve. We help member food banks ensure that they can provide safe, high quality and ethical service to their community.

We provide support to our members through grants and professional development. Although food banks across Ontario come in all shapes and sizes, many face the same challenges of raising funds, directing distribution operations and managing staff and volunteers. We help with the sharing of best practices and offer professional development for our members. In addition, we also provide operating and capital grants to improve food distribution activities.

We reduce poverty through policy, programs and projects. It is the responsibility of the OAFB to tell the story of food banks and those served by food banks, and educate the public on the issues of hunger and poverty facing Ontarians. These efforts are supported by diligent research and the development of long-term, credible solutions. Beyond policy, we also work to reduce poverty on the front line through province-wide programs, and poverty reduction projects in selected communities.

Publication Information
Author: Adam Spence
Design & Photography: Adam Spence
Edited by: Nicola Cernik

Data Sources: There are two major sources of data for this report. The fi rst major data source is the annual member survey for the Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB). This is an online survey of member food banks conducted over a two week period in August in order to get a better understanding of the challenges that food banks face in their operations. The response rate of Ontario’s food banks for this survey was 67.3 per cent in 2009. The second major data source is labour force and retail food price data from Statistics Canada.

Key Trends

1. Ontario’s food banks are under tremendous pressure due to growing unemployment, continually increasing food prices, and rising demand. The circumstances faced by Ontario’s food banks are diffi cult. Over 225,000 full-time jobs have been lost in the province over the past twelve months. The price of groceries continues to rise at a rate well beyond infl ation (4 per cent versus -0.8 per cent). Key items like milk, baby food, pasta, and peanut butter have risen substantially since January of last year, placing pressure on many more families and food banks looking to stretch their budgets for food purchases and other household basics. Moreover, rising demand has placed pressure on the existing operations of Ontario’s food banks. Over 350,000 Ontarians are turning to food banks every month in 2009, a fi gure that has increased by 20 per cent since last year.

2. Many of Ontario’s food banks have witnessed a decrease in food and fi nancial donations in the past year. Many food banks have struggled with declines in food donations in 2009. Approximately one in three food banks in Ontario have seen a decline in individual and corporate food and fi nancial donations in 2009.

3. The food supply of many of Ontario’s food banks is precariously low. Many of Ontario’s food banks have reported that they do not have enough food to meet the needs of their clients. 37.9 per cent of food banks reported that they did not have enough food to meet the needs of their clients in 2009; and one in three reported that their ability to meet clients’ needs had declined this year. These fi gures are particularly worrying, as they are the highest proportions of reported challenges with food supply since data collection began in 2005.

4. Ontario’s food banks have been forced to respond to these challenges by purchasing more food, and in some cases, by rationing the available supply of donations. Food banks have needed to purchase much more food in order to try to keep up with the demand for support over the past year. Seventy three (73) per cent of food banks are spending more money on food in 2009 compared to 2008, and average monthly expenditures on food by Ontario’s food banks have increased by 84.2 per cent. As a result, many food banks expect to spend more money than anticipated on food purchases. A majority (54 per cent) of food banks will be over budget on food purchases in 2009. Unfortunately, there are some food banks that have needed to reduce their hamper sizes in order to meet the challenge of the growing food defi cit. One in four food banks in Ontario have needed to reduce the average amount of food distributed in hampers in 2009.

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