As more and more people find it hard to make ends meet, food bank officials are calling for systemic change to address the growing gap they’re being forced to fill.

The Food Bank of Waterloo Region says one in 14 families in the region accessed their services in the past year, up from the one in 20 the year before.

“Food banks were brought in as a temporary solution, and now we're becoming the reason why people eat, and it shouldn't be that,” said Kim Wilhelm, The Food Bank of Waterloo Region interim CEO.

Wilhelm says with so much demand, the food bank is forced to focus on immediate needs, not long-term solutions, and it’s not sustainable.

“Service at our programs has become very transactional,” Wilhelm said. “We're not able to provide that wraparound service that we would like to, to ensure that people are getting back on their feet.”

While the pandemic and inflation have played a role in causing the crisis, food bank officials say systemic problems are also to blame.


Along with Feed Ontario, they’re calling for change including increased social assistance and more affordable housing.

“Social assistance programs are just not keeping up with the rates that we are seeing in inflation and costs and that's making people have to make impossible choices between, you know, paying the rent or purchasing food, or turning on the heat and buying a coat for their child and no one should have to make those choices,” said Andrea Waters, manager of marketing and communications at Feed Ontario.

There are also concerns the situation will get worse before it gets better.

The Food Bank of Waterloo Region says they’re already anticipating 2023 will be their busiest year yet.

Increased costs are also impacting the food bank itself. One dollar used to provide three meals, but now it only yields two.

And there are other challenges too. For instance, corporate donors used to be willing to do drop-offs themselves.

“Now if they have extra, they're asking us to pick it up because they don't have the additional resources to spend on gas, so that's putting an increase in our gas prices that we could be putting back into food,” Wilhelm said.

Food banks are navigating these challenges and others as demand for their services continues to grow.