Prepared by Robin Bailey
and Jennifer Siekiel

About the Burlington Food Bank

The Burlington Food Bank is a Non-Profit organization which has been serving the residents of Burlington since 1991. Our roots began as a collective known as Partnership West Family Support Network to address the need of food security in the west end of the City of Burlington.
The Burlington Food Bank is the affiliate food bank with Feed Ontario in Burlington. Feed Ontario is the province’s largest collective of hunger-relief organizations. Together with other local food banks, industry partners, and local community groups, the Burlington Food Bank works to end hunger through support of local food security agencies and combat the struggles of poverty by delivering fresh and healthy food, developing innovative programming, and driving change through research and advocacy. Feed Ontario’s resources have inspired and influenced this hunger report.

About the Authors

Robin Bailey

Executive Director, Burlington Food Bank

Robin Bailey started with the Burlington Food Bank as the Executive Director in August of 2017. He previously served the community of Burlington for approximately 7.5 years with the Salvation Army Family Services administering their programming.

As the Executive Director of the Burlington Food Bank, he takes great pride in the staff and volunteers dedication, service and deep care for our clients.

He also serves with Feed Ontario as a Director and a team member on their Advocacy Committee, as well as a number of other local initiatives and committees

Jennifer Siekiel

Research Assitant, McMaster University

Jennifer is a graduate from McMaster University who studied Psychology, Neuroscience, & Behaviour with a minor in Health, Aging, & Society. She volunteered with the Burlington Food Bank for 18 months, and now works at Population Health Research Institute.

About This Report

The purpose of this report is to provide insight to the experiences and data that the Burlington Food Bank has recognized over the past number of years. It is especially important to our community to recognize the growing concern of food insecurity here in Burlington, where oftentimes those that struggle financially are an overlooked people group in our community.

Food insecurity is when enough nutritious food is not reliably accessible due to financial challenges that individuals or households experience. Food banks are typically not-for-profit organizations, not funded by the government, with the mission to provide access to nutritious food on a consistent basis to those who seek assistance.

In the summer of 2021, the Burlington Food Bank conducted surveys to get a better look into the experience of its clients. The Link2Feed system collects information about the demographics of clients, however, the lifestyle of clients is not explicitly shown. Some of the survey responses developed trends that are outlined throughout this report, and some have connections to the Feed Ontario Hunger Reports of 2020 and 2021.

The need in Burlington is significant, despite the affluence commonly associated with the city’s population. This report allows us to see the need here in Burlington, specifically in regard to those using the Burlington Food Bank as a source in dealing with their struggle with food insecurity.

Executive Summary

In March 2020, as has been stated many times, the world as we knew it changed drastically with the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic had a profound effect on all aspects of food security in our country, province and significantly here in our city. Grocery stores began having trouble keeping enough stock for their customers and many people in our community that had already been struggling to put enough food on their tables found themselves in even more dire circumstances.
As a result of these difficult times the Burlington Food Bank saw a significant increase in the demand for its services. We will see throughout this report data that shows a greater than 50% increase in client use from the previous year along with an unparalleled increase of new users to the Food Bank. We will also recognize some of the social issues that impact our community and in many cases are the forces that drive people towards the need for Food Banks and other similar agencies. The Feed Ontario 2021 Hunger Report has been an inspiration to this report and as such will be referenced frequently to show the similarities throughout the province with the lived experiences here in Burlington. This report also gives us a glimpse at some of the other factors that have had a great impact on individuals and families. The Burlington Food Bank surveyed our clients to better understand how people were accessing the Food Bank, who these people are and the need for advocacy on a number of issues that could have a profound effect on people that battle with food insecurity here in Burlington. Some of these areas include social assistance rates, affordable housing, and low-income wage earners.


Inadequate Social Support

A significant amount (about 30%) of households accessing the Burlington Food Bank have a primary income from the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) or from Ontario Works (OW). A “household” is considered any number of related people living in a single residence who are relying on the food we provide. For ODSP recipients the amount they receive each month will depend on their eligibility and the amounts are based on their family size and living expenses, including housing and medical costs (Government of Ontario, 2020). The maximum a household may receive on ODSP is $1971 per month (Government of Ontario, 2018).

Those on OW are in an even more tenuous situation in regard to their finances. A household consisting of 2 adults and one child under 17 receives $1191 per month and a household consisting of 2 adults and a child or dependent 18 or over would receive the maximum allowable from OW which is $1349 per month (City of Toronto, 2018).

Note: “Living Wage” is calculated, exclusively based on a weighted average across the needs of a family of 4, a single parent and a single adult. Living wage includes shelter, food, clothing, medical expenses, childcare, transportation, recreation, and a modest vacation. The calculation excludes things like debt repayment, savings for retirement, savings for children’s future education, or homeownership.

Do these monthly amounts measure up to the minimum financial requirements for living in the Halton Region? According to the Ontario Living Wage Network, Halton’s living wage is estimated at $20.75/hour at a full-time job (Community Development Halton, 2021). This would translate to $3112.50/month if working 37.5 hours a week. With this in mind, approximately 30% of Burlington Food Bank clients whose primary income sources are ODSP or OW, are short over $1140 per month in providing a livable wage, and that is at the maximum amount someone might get depending on their circumstances.

To illustrate the aforementioned troubles with low ODSP and OW rates, the 2021 Hunger Report by Feed Ontario shared the table above showing the “Poverty Line” in the second column, which is otherwise known as the “Low Income Measure” (King, Quan, Ward-Beveridge, Dixon, & Cheng, 2021). These terms are referring to the same measurement of income, which shows the lowest income a family would survive on, depending on their expenses, which is stratified by location. ODSP and OW recipients in the Hamilton/Burlington locations are significantly below the poverty line on a monthly basis.

Furthermore, in the 2020 Hunger Report by Feed Ontario, a graph was shared (see below) to illustrate how far ODSP and OW fall below the Low Income Measure, and where the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) compared to the social support systems (King & Stewart, 2020).

With the subsidies that social service recipients receive from government sources many Burlington residents struggle with their day-to-day expenses. For some, the Food Bank allows them to pay for their rent, utilities, communication, and transportation costs. This is not only true for those that receive social assistance but also for those that are in low paying jobs across several sectors including, but not limited to, the service industry, personal support workers, and many individuals just entering the workforce.


Children Served

Children 18 and under make up the largest age group served by the Burlington Food Bank. Children and adults alike require access to healthy food options to maintain strength and health. The Food Bank strives to provide a variety of healthy options for its clients, and through donations as well as items purchased from monetary donations, the Food Bank has been able to keep up with such demand especially around the holidays when donations are at their peak.
Though there are several opportunities for children to receive assistance with food security through a variety of programs, their families still struggle with everyday financial burdens. The Food Bank addresses this with the family’s staple items for their everyday meals, as well as snacks for school, juice boxes, hygiene products, diapers, and other needs families with children may have.

Questionnaire DATA TRENDS

Education Level and Employment

When clients were asked about their highest level of education, the top two responses were: High School Diploma and College Diploma. Considering these responses, the question raised is: Are there enough stable, worthwhile jobs accessible to individuals with these levels of education? The other factor to consider is that many individuals or families with higher levels of education find it very difficult to ask for help from agencies such as the Burlington Food Bank as they feel that they should be able to provide for themselves without any outside assistance. It is believed that less than 25% of those who need assistance, actually reach out for the help they need.
The rise in casual, contract, and part-time employment impacts the trend that even employed individuals are seeking assistance from food banks (King & Stewart, 2020). Furthermore, “Ontario has the highest proportion of minimum wage workers in the country. These positions are […] least likely to offer employer benefits or paid sick days to employees or frontline staff” (King & Stewart, 2020). If in Ontario individuals with lower education levels are unable to access quality employment, then it would be nearly impossible for them to rise above the Low-Income Measure, or what some refer to as the “Poverty Line”.

Questionnaire DATA TRENDS

Heat, Electricity and Rent

The food bank asked participants, “are you in arrears for your heat, hydro, or rent?” The majority of clients were not behind on rent and utilities payments. Data like this supports the Feed Ontario Hunger Report of 2020’s claim that “rent is often prioritized above any other expense, with many food bank users choosing to reduce the amount of food they purchase — or even go without — in order to ensure this bill is paid” (King & Stewart, 2020).

Some of the Food Bank clients shared the sentiment included in the report saying that they prioritize having a roof over their heads and ensuring there is heat and electricity before they spend any money on food (King & Stewart, 2020).

Affordable housing is, for many households, the most significant factor that needs to be addressed. It is one of the largest drivers of people to food banks. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Burlington is $1942 per month (King& Stewart, 2020).

Alarmingly, the Feed Ontario Hunger Report of 2021 notes that, “food banks saw a 23 percent increase in the proportion of homeowners accessing their services over the previous year” (King, Quan, Ward-Beveridge, Dixon, & Cheng, 2021). If individuals who are able to get a mortgage are unable to comfortably include groceries in their monthly expenses due to inflation or other increased expenditures on necessities, what does that mean going forward? The question is, will more and more homeowners require assistance?

Questionnaire DATA TRENDS

Time In Burlington

In affluent areas there can be a misconception that individuals who are accessing food banks, and other social support programs, are immigrants or newcomers who put a strain on social resources. When respondents were asked how long they have lived in Burlington, a resounding 46% responded “more than 10 years”.

This is a clear indicator that many individuals seeking help have been here for a long time. Theoretically, clients have made their home in Burlington and as living costs have increased over time; individuals have started seeking assistance once they are unable to keep up. This is a theory and more research on how long individuals have lived here as well as how long they have sought our assistance is needed to show this.

According to Link2Feed data, only 10% of food bank users are identified as having immigrated within the last 10 years to Canada. Meanwhile, 44% of people have moved to Burlington from other areas of Canada. It could be a misinterpretation that there is a much higher number of new immigrants to Canada, when they have simply changed cities after having been citizens for 10+ years. It is important to acknowledge that many of our clients are people that have been raised here in Burlington and are still in need of assistance regardless of their background.


The need in Burlington is a significant issue despite the affluence associated with the city. Food insecurity often goes unnoticed for many reasons, such as: the fear of being stigmatized for seeking help, the feelings of inadequacy for not being able to provide for one’s family, lack of good paying jobs, or having to work multiple part time positions with no benefits or paid sick days. Despite these issues, this hunger report has shown via various themes that food insecurity is a prevalent issue that our fellow residents struggle with.

The trends demonstrated through data collected indicate that client numbers have increased significantly during the pandemic and are not reducing. If the 2008 financial crisis is any indicator, we can expect to see food bank use increase over the next couple of years here in Burlington and across the province as the financial strains continue for many households.

The lives of clients are impacted in a variety of ways, and the Burlington Food Bank offers support that assists in filling the gap left by a lack of adequate social assistance and other supports that are needed. Food banks are a system that was developed to provide emergency assistance. However, food banks are not the solution to poverty and strong policy combined with government action is required to narrow the gap between income and the cost of living (King, Quan, Ward-Beveridge, Dixon, & Cheng, 2021).


City of Toronto. (2018, October 01). Monthly Ontario Works Amounts. Retrieved from toronto.ca

Community Development Halton. (2021, November 03). Calculating a Living Wage for Halton – 2021 Update. Retrieved from cdhalton.ca

Government of Ontario. (2018, September). Ontario Disability Support Program – Income Support. Retrieved from mcss.gov.on.ca

Government of Ontario. (2020, November 1). Social assistance.  Retrieved from ontario.ca

King, A., & Stewart, C. (2020). Hunger Report 2020 – The Impact of COVID-19 on Food Bank Use in Ontario (Rep.).

King, A., & Quan, A. (2021). Hunger Report 2021 – How the Pandemic Accelerated the Income and Affordability Crisis in Ontario (Rep.) (C. Ward-Beveridge, R. Dixon, & S. Cheng, Eds.).