Food banks in the Greater Toronto Area say they are finding it more difficult to secure donations for their Thanksgiving food drives this year as the cost of groceries and the demand for their services soar in the region.

Meghan Nicholls, the CEO of Food Banks Mississauga, said that as of late Thursday night, the organization was only about 45 per cent of the way toward their $1 million goal for this year’s Thanksgiving campaign, which ends next Sunday.

“Certainly the pressure is on for the community to respond, for us to be able to continue to provide the same resources that we do in the community,” she told on Friday.

Nicholls noted that this year’s goal is $250,000 higher than last year’s due to the growing need in the community and the higher food costs.

She said she understands that donations may be slower to roll in this year due to the difficult financial realities that many Canadians are facing.

“I can understand that for folks that are perhaps struggling to pay their own bills and are considering whether they need to use the food bank themselves, they may not have the capacity to give that they once had,” Nicholls said.

“We do hear anecdotally from people saying, ‘I can’t believe I am here using the food bank. I used to send food items with my kids to school for them to donate.’”

She said Food Banks Mississauga is currently serving 82 per cent more people than it was pre-pandemic and August saw record food bank usage, with 16,000 people coming through their doors in a single month.

She added that about five per cent of Mississauga residents now currently rely on food banks to meet their needs.

“That’s the kind of statistic that really scares me because as more and more people in our community need to use the food bank, are there enough folks left with the means to donate to be able to show that compassion and support their neighbours?” Nicholls asked.

“As a society we have chosen to have charities like Food Banks Mississauga meet people’s food needs versus demanding that our government ensure that folks have the income to pay their bills. It means that when it comes around to times like this at Thanksgiving, whether or not neighbours have food to eat relies on folks choosing to be generous with their financial resources and it makes it precarious.”

Nicholls said like all food banks in Canada, most of the funding for Food Banks Mississauga comes from community donations.

“We did receive a small amount of government funding, the Region of Peel released some additional funding to support food security in the last year and they supported some special initiatives. But the bulk of our funding in the community comes from generous individuals and companies,” she said.

She urged people to push the government to act by contacting elected officials and demanding that all people in their communities have their basic needs met.

“That means increasing social assistance rates, providing more affordable housing, increasing minimum wage, decreasing the number of gig type jobs where people don’t have benefits. Those financial interventions are what will reduce food bank use,” she said.

“It is not a food problem, it is an income problem.”

Neil Hetherington, the CEO of the Toronto-based Daily Break Food Bank, said it too is seeing rapid rise in the number of people in need of food.

“This is the most significant Thanksgiving food drive that the Daily Bread has ever hosted in our history,” he said on Friday.

“We’ve gone from serving some 65,000 clients per month to 274,000 this past August and that is obscene in a city as wonderful as ours is,” he said.

The Daily Bread Food Bank is also only at about 50 per cent of its Thanksgiving campaign goal, though the drive will go until the end of the month.

“If you can drop off food to any fire hall, that would be hugely appreciated. If the individual has the financial means to make a financial contribution, we will take those funds and buy food,” he said.

“We used to spend $1.5 million a year on food. We are now spending $22 million a year on food.”

He too urged people to advocate for government intervention to reduce the need for food bank use.

“The numbers speak for themselves about the chronic need that is growing in our city, adding 12,000 new families every single month to the food bank registry.”

In the meantime, Nicholls asked people to be as generous as they can be over the holiday weekend.

“As folks are spending time with their families this weekend and enjoying food and time together… if they are able consider folks in their community who are struggling to get by,” she said. “Make a donation so they can enjoy their Thanksgiving too.”