As food bank use across the country reaches record levels, a new food bank has opened in midtown Toronto after high demand left another in the area overburdened.
The Hillcrest Community Food Bank, which is part of the Daily Bread network, opened on Oct. 15. The new food bank is a partnership between Hillcrest Christian Church and Hillcrest Community School, located in the church's basement and partially staffed by grade five and six classes who volunteer once a week.
Neil Hetherington, Daily Bread's CEO, hosted an official opening of the food bank on Friday. He said the food bank nearby, which is also a Daily Bread member, simply hit capacity and can't support more than 300 families an evening.
"Today is a sad day, we have to open up a new food bank," Hetherington said. "Over the course of this past year, we've seen food bank usage grow at rates that are unprecedented."
The opening of the new Hillcrest location reflects a broader national problem. An October report from Food Banks Canada found food bank usage reached its highest level since the survey started in 1989. According to the Daily Bread Food Bank's most recent annual report, it saw a 63 per cent year-over-year increase in use fom July 2022 to June 2023.
The opening of the new Hillcrest location is indicative of a national problem. An October report from Food Banks Canada found food bank usage reached its highest level since the survey started in 1989. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)
Use of the new Hillcrest food bank has grown from 50 families to nearly 200 in the three weeks it's been open, according to John Tilly, a teacher at the school. Hetherington expects use to double in the coming weeks.
Aside from providing an important service to the community, Tilly says volunteering at the food bank can make a difference for the kids too.
Annie Love is a sixth grade volunteer at the food bank, where she helps keep track of inventory.
LISTEN | What it's like volunteering at the new food bank:
"I just sometimes think like, when you're eating dinner or having a snack at school, that maybe not everybody has this," she said. "It makes me feel like I'm actually doing something to help.
Food bank leaders calling for government aid
Food bank leaders recently told CBC Toronto the outlook for 2024 will be grim without serious government action to reduce poverty as demand is expected to increase.
One glimmer of hope, they and Hetherington say, is the Canadian Disability Benefit, which is part of a bill that passed in Parliament in June. The benefit, which will provide federal money to low income, working-age people with disabilities, isn't accessible yet, however.
The benefit would top up incomes so that they reach a set level. The government has a year from the bill's passing to establish what that level will be
A spokesperson for the federal Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities previously told CBC Toronto the benefit is still in the consultation phase. The public will eventually be able to provide input on the draft regulations, they said.