TORONTO — Skipping the occasional meal has become the norm for Tara Andrews, who says soaring grocery prices have made it too hard to adequately feed herself and her two teens.
Even with help from food donations and her retired parents, the 49-year-old single mom says the skyrocketing cost of living is more than she can handle on her monthly income of $1,200. She’s already one month in arrears for May’s rent and expects the same for June.
“My grocery bill has almost doubled and I get maybe half of what I used to be able to get. It’s a direct relationship that the more expensive things get, the less I can afford to buy,” Andrews says from her home in Coquitlam, B.C.
It’s a familiar story for various agencies dedicated to addressing food insecurity, with the head of Food Banks Canada saying many families with children are especially precarious as school-based food programs wind down.
Kirstin Beardsley says about a third of people who rely on Canadian food banks are children — as many as up to 400,000 each month. The agency says food bank use is rising among single-parent families.
“These are kids who are not getting a chance to thrive. And that has long-term impact on the country,” says Beardsley.
“You can’t lose sight of the fact that kids don’t get another childhood, they can’t do this over. This is their one chance and you need to make sure that we’re giving everyone the opportunity they need to build the life that they want.”
This summer, Food Banks Canada hopes to bump up the summer food packs it offers kids to 175,000 — up 25,000 from last year and many times over the 700 inaugural packs of 2015.
In Toronto, the head of the Daily Bread Food Bank also says requests for aid have spiked as inflation reached a nearly four-decade high.
Neil Hetherington says his agency is seeing roughly 160,000 client visits per month — up from about 120,000 per month in January. He says modelling the organization has done with CIBC predicts that to rise to 200,000 client visits per month in December.
He says counterparts across the country tell him of similar spikes, with many reporting a 20 to 30 per cent jump in demand.
While many of these visitors have been on the margins for years, Hetherington says he’s also seeing new faces who otherwise have never turned to food charities, pegging the surge to a confluence of soaring food prices, gas prices, housing costs and ongoing labour uncertainty in some sectors.
“We are seeing individuals who are working but their paycheque is not keeping pace with the cost of being able to drive to their place of employment, or be able to feed their children. They are increasingly worried about what they are seeing and (about) being able to put food on the table,” says Hetherington.
Back in British Columbia, Andrews says things would be much worse for her without the subsidy for her three-bedroom apartment, which brings rent down to $540 per month.
But she says pre-existing financial woes deepened during the pandemic and have only gotten worse in 2022 as inflation also drove up the cost of gas and utilities.
She’s also saddled with $150,000 in school loans but can only cover the interest.
“I’m luckier than some because I live in housing so it’s subsidized but still you’ve got all the bills that go with it to keep the house running. Then there’s the food on top of it,” she says.
“I’m making enough to cover my bills and really not to afford food. That’s really what it comes down to.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2022.
Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press