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Many Canadians are accessing food banks for the first time

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61% of those who recently accessed a food bank, food hamper or community meal program were first-time users

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An increasing number of Canadians are accessing food banks for the first time as they struggle to meet their basic needs amid the high cost of living, according to new research from The Salvation Army Canada.

The Canadian Poverty and Socioeconomic Analysis, which interviewed 1,515 Canadians in March, found that 61 per cent of those who recently accessed a food bank, food hamper or community meal program were first-time users, a sharp increase from 43 per cent in October 2023. The total number of Canadians who accessed one of these programs was also up slightly from six per cent last fall to seven per cent this spring.

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“The increase in first-time users of food banks is an alarming indicator of the conditions that many Canadians are facing,” John Murray, territorial secretary for communications at The Salvation Army in Canada and Bermuda, said in a press release. “We often find that when people show up at a food bank it can be the tip of the iceberg for additional issues they may be facing.”

More than a quarter of those surveyed (26 per cent) indicated that they are “extremely concerned” about having enough income to cover their basic needs. The number of people who said they had skipped or reduced the size of a meal also increased to 26 per cent from 21 per cent previously.

More Canadians also admitted to buying less nutritious food and reducing their grocery bills to save money and pay for other necessities.

“Despite easing inflation numbers, life is still difficult for many Canadians,” Murray said. “Food insecurity is just one symptom facing people today.”

Canada’s annual rate of inflation fell to a three-year low of 2.7 per cent in April, down from 2.9 per cent the month prior, according to Statistics Canada.

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Still, 72 per cent of respondents have had challenges managing limited financial resources in the past year. In fact, many of them have cut back on non-essential needs (59 per cent), changed habits to save money (52 per cent) and used savings or gone into debt to afford basic needs (36 per cent).

In the last year alone, more than three million visits were made to The Salvation Army in Canada and Bermuda for assistance. That included 2.1 million visits for food, clothing or practical help, 438,000 for Christmas food hampers and toys, and 3.2 million for community meals.

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