Feeding Families and Furry Friends: Human and Pet Food Banks in Action

| March 22, 2024
A Spotlight on Toronto Humane Society’s Pet Food Bank Program

Written by: Dillon Dodson, RSW, MSW

In 1976, Canada signed the United Nations Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, which includes “the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger,” (Benham, 1998). Since then, Canada has worked to meet this commitment.

That said, in 2024, Canada is confronted with a new set of challenges related to poverty and food insecurity. Skyrocketing housing costs, food inflation, stagnating wages, and insufficient income support are pushing more and more households into poverty as evidenced by Food Bank Canada’s provincial reporting.

It is paramount to acknowledge that poverty is the root cause of food insecurity. As the most populous province in Canada, it is critical that we as a community engage in responsible poverty-reduction conversations and activities in the interest of the health for our families and the animals they love.

Provided by Food Banks Canada

Poverty Equals Food Insecurity

Food security is the condition where individuals consistently have the means, financially and physically, to obtain enough safe and nutritious food that aligns with their dietary requirements, for maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle. On the contrary, food insecurity arises when individuals face barriers in accessing an adequate and reliable food supply due to financial constraints.

It is not uncommon that families experiencing food insecurity will skip meals or eat less than they need, eat the same foods for all their meals, worry about not having sufficient food consistently, and even go without eating for several days in order to feed their children and pets (City of Toronto, 2024).

Provided by Daily Bread Food Bank
Provided by Daily Bread Food Bank

Food insecurity extends beyond mere food scarcity. Studies indicate that it serves as an indicator of broader material inadequacy (PROOF, 2023). Further, food insecurity represents a significant concern as it serves as a pivotal social determinant of health, directly influencing various adverse health outcomes.

Food Bank Status

Initially conceived to offer short-term relief during the 1980s recession, food banks evolved into the predominant response to tackle hunger, with demand steadily rising annually. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic led to an unprecedented surge in demand, a trend that has persisted and intensified ever since.

2023 marked the highest year-over-year increase of food bank usage ever recorded. This uptick correlates with the sharpest rates of general inflation witnessed in the past four decades, particularly affecting the costs of essential items such as food, housing, and transportation. As household purchasing power steadily diminishes, an increasing number of households, including those in higher income brackets, find themselves grappling with food insecurity.

Provided by Daily Bread Food Bank


1 in 6 are employed: Despite employment rates increasing, being employed is simply not enough; more than half of food insecure households in Ontario rely on income from wages, salaries or self-employment (Tarasuk V, Li T, Fafard St-Germain AA., 2022).

1 in 3 are children: Families with children grapple with the cost of childcare and other child-specific needs. Further, there has been increases in two-parent households accessing food banks. Note it is likely this figure is higher due to underreport child hunger as a result of stigma and apprehensions about government intervention.

8% are seniors: Use has far outpaced other age groups, particularly concerning as our population continues to age.

42.4% are on social assistance or disability-related support: Ontario maintains some of the lowest social assistance rates in the country. Access is difficult due to strict eligibility criteria, including dollar-for-dollar claw backs for employment income and strict asset limits; consequently, individuals are effectively trapped in poverty. Further, people with disabilities face heightened hardships due to the elevated healthcare costs. In 2023, 28% of individuals with physical disabilities and 39% with mental disabilities reported experiencing hunger due to insufficient funds for food. (Food Banks Canada, 2024).

Provided by Daily Bread Food Bank

Hunger in Toronto

Across all areas of the city, food bank visits have outpaced population growth. Visits surged by 51% (compared to 2022) surpassing the 2 million mark. Approximately 1 in 4 Torontonians live in a food insecure household (Public Health Ontario, 2023 ) and 1 in 10 in Toronto now rely on food banks. The affordability crisis appears to be worsening, as evidenced by 43% of Ontarians reporting a decline in their financial situation compared to the previous year.

Of those accessing food banks, 70% are private market renters and a significant portion started accessing food banks due to job loss or inadequate employment income (Daily Bread, 2024). When income does not keep pace with expenses, families may be forced to use their food budget to pay for other expenses such as heat, childcare or transportation.

Toronto Humane Society’s Pet Food Bank: An Answer to the Calls for Help

Despite efforts to increase access to food, existing programs continue to experience significant strain due to high demand for support.

Toronto Humane Society recognizes that many families temporarily face difficult financial times and may require assistance in caring for their pets. We believe that no one should face the difficult decision of having to surrender or rehome their pet because they cannot afford the cost of food or in circumstances whereby after accounting for other fixed expenses, pet parents cannot afford to feed themselves and their pet.

Toronto Humane Society originally launched our Pet Food Bank service a few decades ago with the intention of helping families facing short-term financial difficulties. Over the years utilization has increased and within the last year, use has skyrocketed with the food bank providing over 189,000 pounds of food in 2023. While not initially intended to be for long term or permanent use, due to the complexities of the challenges in our city, more and more individuals are relying on our Pet Food Bank which mirrors their use of food banks for groceries. Every day, our staff hear how frequently pet families forgo feeding themselves to ensure their pet’s bowl remains full.

In order to expand our services, Toronto Humane Society celebrated our 1-year anniversary in November 2023 of our monthly “Community Day” events where we distribute pet food (in larger quantities than daily Pet Food Bank) and pet supplies such as leashes, carriers, food bowls, and toys. It is not uncommon for families to line up hours in advance of opening, regardless of inclement weather, to ensure their pets benefit from the supplies available.

Finally, Toronto Humane Society’s social worker is available to speak with all members of the community accessing the Pet Food Bank and Community Day events to assist with connection to human serving organizations, such as food banks. It is critical that we provide comprehensive and wholistic care to all members of the family, human and nonhuman.

Addressing food insecurity in Canada is a formidable task, but fortunately, we are not tackling this challenge alone. As a pillar of our community, we are honoured to join our human service partners in an effort to bring us closer to a future where hunger is eradicated, and no human or their loving companion animal goes without.

This article was initially showcased in the Winter 2023 issue of Animal Talk, a quarterly publication by Toronto Humane Society. Within its pages, the magazine provides invaluable pet advice, essential animal welfare updates, and regular insights to keep our community well-informed. You can now access this edition for free on issuu.


Benham, K “An Economic Development Strategy for the Toronto Food Sector,” City of Toronto, May 1998 Toronto’s Food Charter.

City of Toronto, 2024 Food Insecurity in Toronto – City of Toronto

Daily Bread, 2024 Who’s Hungry Report 2023 A Call to Action From a City in Crisis DB_3714-18_WhosHungry_Report_E.indd (dailybread.ca)

Hunger In Canada – Food Banks Canada

Tarasuk V, Li T, Fafard St-Germain AA. (2022) Household food insecurity in Canada, 2021. Toronto: Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF). Retrieved from https://proof.utoronto.ca/