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Running on Empty: Ontario Hunger Report Chronicles Persistant Economic Hardship in Canada’s Most Populous Province

The 21st Century’s first decade in Ontario will be remembered for the hard-hitting recession, rising food prices, unemployment, affordable housing shortages – and hunger

March 22, 2011

Toronto, ON – The Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB) is calling on all Ontario political parties to walk the talk and make hunger a top priority ahead of the provincial election scheduled for October. The OAFB call to action follows the release of Running On Empty: A Decade of Hunger in Ontario, its report chronicling startling trends in food bank use over the century’s first 10 years across Ontario.According to the Running On Empty report, even as the province recovers from the recession, more than 400,000 Ontarians are forced to turn to food banks each and every month. The report is the most recent in a series of high profile announcements by national and provincial organizations pointing to an alarming growth rate in the number of malnourished and chronically hungry people in Canada.

“The numbers don’t lie: our report provides irrefutable, once-and-for-all empirical evidence that hunger and lack of basic necessities are chronic problems across Ontario,” said Ed Borkowski, Executive Director, Ontario Association of Food Banks. “How many more reports will it take for Ontario political party leaders to wake up to the fact that hunger needs to be at the top of their agendas?”

The OAFB is asking Ontario citizens to support its call to action by sending an online e-card petition to all three main political parties in Ontario, asking them to put hunger at the top of their election platforms. The e-cards can be completed and sent from the OAFB website at:

Running On Empty reveals that the average profile of those accessing food banks across Ontario has shifted over the last 10 years, with single adults now comprising the largest proportion of the population served by them. Meanwhile, food bank use has grown by as much as 28 per cent since 2008, with 3.1 per cent of the province’s entire population accessing food banks, making Ontario the third most intensive user of food bank services in Canada.

The report also finds that 85 per cent of food bank users are either Canadian-born or have lived in Canada for more than 10 years. The number of newcomers turning to food banks decreased from 29 per cent in 2007 to 15 per cent in 2010.

“Health care is always at the top of everyone’s political agenda, but not enough is being done to proactively address health problems arising directly from poor nutrition and poverty,” said Borkowski. “We must start thinking about turning these trends around so Ontario can remain a strong and healthy place for families to live, work and thrive.”

Running On Empty: A Decade of Hunger in Ontario

More than 400,000 Ontarians are forced to turn to food banks each and every month (3.1 per cent of the province’s population). This makes Ontario the third most intensive user of food bank services in Canada. Other key facts and findings:

Family background

• Single adults now comprise the largest proportion of the population served by food banks (38 per cent in 2010, up from 26 per cent in 2002)
• Single parent families are the second largest group served (30 per cent in 2010, down from a peak of 39 per cent in 2003)
• Two parent families come third. They accounted for 22 per cent of food bank clients in 2010 (down from 27 per cent in 2002)
• Children and youth under the age of 18 account for 37 per cent of the population served by food banks in March 2010, down from 40 per cent in 2000.
• 15 per cent of food bank clients were new Canadians (have lived in Canada less than 10 years) in 2010 down from 29 per cent in 2007
• Aboriginal clients also declined over time to 7 per cent in 2010

Sources of income

• Most Ontario households using food banks depended on social assistance (45 per cent) in 2010. But this was much lower than the 65 per cent in 2000.
• In contrast, the number of households receiving Ontario Disability Program (ODSP) benefits increased over the decade from 14 per cent in 2000 to 23 per cent in 2010
• Over 5 per cent of the households served relied on pension income, the same as in 2001
• Only 11 per cent of households had employment income in 2010, about the same as the early 2000s; access to Employment Insurance (EI) fluctuated through the decade, hitting a low of 2.6 per cent of households in 2008 and a peak of 5 per cent in 2004
• In rural areas (communities under 10,000), 9 per cent received EI benefits and 40 per cent received social assistance, while 22 per cent accessed Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefits


• 64 per cent of people served by food banks in 2010 lived in market rental accommodation; 27 per cent lived in social housing. Only 4.4 per cent owned their own homes
• Comparing the Ontario average with rural areas, homeownership was higher in rural settings (17 per cent of food bank clients), but rental accommodation was lower, at 51 per cent in 2010. And more people were living with family or friends (6 per cent rural vs. 2 per cent for the province as a whole)

The Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB) is a network of 20 regional food banks and over 100 community food banks across the province from Windsor to Ottawa and Niagara Falls to Thunder Bay working towards a hunger-free Ontario. It is our mission to provide food, funding, and solutions to reduce hunger in the province. For more information about OAFB as well as hunger and poverty in Ontario, please visit

Contact Information

Debra Douglass
Pilot PMR
416.462.0199 ext. 24
[email protected]