May 24, 2023

Joint Statement on Addressing the Rising Food Insecurity Facing Children and Youth in Ontario

The Honourable Michael Parsa Minister of Children, Community and Social Services 7th Floor, 438 University Ave Toronto, ON M5G 2K8

The Honourable Stephen Lecce Minister of Education 5th Floor, 438 University Ave Toronto, ON M5G 2K8

Dear Minister Parsa and Minister Lecce,

We hope this letter finds you well. Ontario and all parts of Canada and North America are seeing a cost of living crisis, with rising inflation and unaffordability of basic necessities. In Canada, food inflation is at 10.6% as of February 2023, more than double the rate of overall inflation.

According to a 2022 report by Feed Ontario, 30 percent of food bank clients are children and youth under the age of 18. A study by the University of Toronto on food insecurity found that 1 in 5 children are food insecure in Canada. In Toronto according to the Daily Bread Food Bank and North York Harvest Food Bank, 1 in 4 of their users were children in March. The first time in 25 years.

Ontario is facing a calamitous hunger crisis that calls on the government to act, and act urgently to address it. In Ontario the base funding of $28 million for student nutrition programs has remained consistent since 2014, despite the cost of food having increased dramatically over the last decade.

Across the province student nutrition programs are at a breaking point, with many having to reduce meals given to students or close down operations despite increased demand by schools. No young person should go hungry, but the simple truth is that far too many children are. The ramifications of food insecurity are far-reaching and have a profound impact not only on the health and well-being of individuals, but also the quality of education they receive. Simply, we can not expect a hungry student to do good in math, be focused and attentive, happy and ready to learn.

We acknowledge that the government took steps last year to mandate food literacy and nutrition across all grades and into the science curriculum to ensure students are taught and more knowledgeable of the benefits of locally grown food, different approaches to agriculture and so much more. However, it is indefensible to solely learn about food and its benefits, while being deprived of accessing it yourself.

That is why the Toronto Youth Cabinet and all underlying signatories are calling on the Province of Ontario to provide a universal free school breakfast and lunch program to all Ontario students. The province must also guarantee that schools are provided with the sufficient infrastructure, resources and funding to hire and train staff who will be responsible for preparing these nutritious meals.

In a province as wealthy and abundant as Ontario, it is unacceptable to have children be deprived of their right to food and adequate nutrition in supporting them to reach their full potential. Although I recognize that with rampant inflation, the government will be wary of increased spending, a universal school food program has the huge potential to support families

in a meaningful way who are facing unprecedented financial pressures. The benefits of such a program are far-reaching, not only is it a cost-effective way to drive economic growth by investing in local Ontario farmers and producers and creating a healthier society, it has proven to contribute to increased student achievement, reduced absenteeism and increased health promotion.

Thank you Minister Parsa and Minister Lecce for your attention on this matter. We hope for immediate action on this. Let us continue to work towards making Ontario’s publicly funded education system much stronger, more equitable and the best in the world!

CC: Premier of Ontario Doug Ford Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Logan Kanapathi Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Education Patrice Barnes Leader, Official Opposition, Marit Stiles Children, Community and Social Services Critic, Monique Taylor Education Critic, Chandra Pasma

Sincerely,

Toronto Youth Cabinet Food Banks Canada Breakfast Club of Canada Feed Ontario Daily Bread Food Bank North York Harvest Food Bank FoodShare Toronto Food Secure Canada Second Harvest Food Rescue Coalition for Healthy School Food Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) Association des enseignantes et des enseignantes franco-ontariens (AEFO) Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO)