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New Report on Food Banks in Halton

March 25, 1999 – Halton Social Planning Council releases Halton Food Bank Study: Alternatives to Dependency. Concern about food security in our community evoked a series of questions about the role of food banks in resolving peoples food needs. The Halton Social Planning Council believes this study provides important insights into food banks and their contribution to peoples food security in our community. It describes the transformation of food banks from an emergency response to organizations providing food over significant time periods to those without. It also identifies, through the voices and written comments of study participants, the root causes of food insecurity. Important findings are:

  • Although Canada produces plenty of food, sufficient nutritious food remains inaccessible to many residents. By 1992, food banks in Canada outnumbered McDonalds franchises three to one. By 1994, the number of food banks in Canada had risen dramatically to 457.
  • A direct correspondence can be seen between the increased number of food banks in Canada and Statistics Canadas figures on the increased number of people living in poverty. Although Halton is a more affluent region than others in Ontario, many people in Halton are poor and are not able to meet basic food needs. In 1991, 4,590 families in Halton were poor, compared to 7,140 in 1996, an increase of 52%.

Who uses food banks in Halton?

  • The majority of recipients of Halton food banks are families with children. The number of recipients using food banks increased from a monthly average of 1,015 families in 1994 to 1,495 in 1997.
  • Many food banks report some noticeable changes in the profile of recipients including:

i) an increase in the number of the working poor as recipients
ii) an increase in the number of unemployed people between the ages of 45 and 65 lacking current employment skills as recipients
iii) an increase in the number of people with disabilities as recipients

The study also reveals that of 102 Halton food bank recipients studied

  • 80% have children,
  • 34% live in a household with an adult who has a disability,
  • 27% have a college diploma or certificate or a university degree,
  • over 40% have monthly household incomes between $500 and $999,
  • 56% have gone without food sometimes so their children can have food,
  • 45% do not own a car,
  • 70% receive social assistance,
  • 91% live in rented accommodation,
  • 26% are on the subsidized housing waiting list,
  • 34% went without food for one day or more before going to the food bank, and
  • 85% indicated that they or their partner would be able to work if affordable quality child care was available.

Do Food Banks Meet the Needs of Those Depending on Them?

In general, food bank recipients think food banks are very helpful and are very grateful they exist, asserting that they and others would be in a worse situation without them.

“Were very grateful, extremely grateful, we wouldnt be this far… they really helped us.”

Food bank recipients agree that food banks assist them, but feel several improvements can be made. The following comment reflects the view of participants:

“I think they are doing a good job and they are doing a tough job, so they might as well complete this and ask the people… find out the exact needs. Not the exact needs – the necessities.”

“I think they are doing a good job and they are doing a tough job, so they might as well complete this and ask the people… find out the exact needs. Not the exact needs – the necessities.”

Recommendations for improvements include that food banks, service providers, concerned citizens, the private sector and government collaborate to:


  • Develop consistent policies and procedures to better serve food bank recipients such as eligibility requirements, frequency of visits, food quality, including expiry dates, availability of food vouchers, and provision of non-food items.



“Sometimes some of the stuff is really old . . . past its expiry date.”

  • Improve the opportunity for recipients to exchange items that are unsuitable or personally unacceptable.

“If the food banks allowed you to go in there and pick what you used. You know what I mean, theres not much sense in giving you a can of pork and beans… because I cant eat it. I would be better off if they let me pick something that I can use myself.”


  • Educate the public on the need for basic staple foods that recipients identify as essential as well as processed foods.

“Dont give me another can of brown beans, give me a package of barley that I can make beef barley soup

. Brown beans and canned spaghetti, Im sorry Im getting so sick of receiving it because I can only eat so much … but if you gave me a bag of flour, a bag of sugar, a bag of powdered milk ….”

“How can I cook? I need oil. Give me some tomato paste, give me some oil

!” !”

  • Create a food security action body to i) advocate for those who need food banks, ii) coordinate food bank services, and iii) to develop additional complementary or alternative programs.

“Whenever you see an ad for a drive for the food bank, you know on the bag or in the paper they always ask for the same things. They ask for canned fish and they ask for macaroni and cheese… people [food bank recipients] are getting the same things but is this what we are asking for?


  • Increase employment opportunities and develop strategies to provide more jobs that pay adequate wages and ensure that relevant skills training programs and education programs are available to those that need them.

“I get angry when I think about it because I worked all my life… its not my fault.”

  • Increase the minimum wage to reflect a basic cost of living.

“Its something thats more than just a job…people that are just getting jobs are not necessarily out of the food bank syndrome… their jobs arent affording them a life style that they can stop using the food bank… $6.85 an hour minimum wage isnt going to do it.”


  • Increase the Maximum Basic Needs Allowance of social assistance so that it is adequate to cover monthly expenses.

” You know its really ridiculous and when you talk to these people and say listen how the hell am I going to pay $500 in rent and feed a growing boy, eighteen years old… he eats like a horse…and help with the clothing and stuff like this on $600, can anybody tell me how to do that, I would greatly appreciate it.”


  • Increase funding for new social housing programs.

“We were compelled to rent a very high apartment. Its $1,000 per month for rent, which is very high, but we couldnt find an alternative. We applied to subsidized housing but subsidized housing says they have a long waiting list and that is the reason why we depend completely now on the food bank.”


Study participants express hope that this study would increase public awareness about the need for food bank services in Halton and address some of the reasons for food bank dependency. Participants believe that the community has little understanding of poverty and how it drives one to seek help from food banks. People donate food but do not question why they need to give food or why there is a need for food banks.

The Council trusts that this report will serve as a blueprint for action to build food security across Halton.

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