Feed Ontario Builds Largest Data Set on Hunger and Poverty in Canada

A diverse network without access to data

Feed Ontario is the primary voice for people experiencing hunger in Ontario, Canada, and represents almost 40 per cent of all food bank clients served in the nation.

In 2017, Feed Ontario provided food and support to more than 499,000 adults, seniors and children facing hunger. Through 129 direct member food banks and 1,100 hunger-relief agencies, inclusive of breakfast clubs, school meal programs, community food centres, and emergency shelters, Feed Ontario distributed the equivalent of over five million meals to families in need.

Their network is geographically and socioeconomically diverse, with members in small rural areas, native reservations and large metropolis areas like Toronto. To effectively advocate for people and appropriately respond to need across the province, Feed Ontario required access to real-time data.

Province-wide data collection effort

In 2013, Feed Ontario contracted with Link2Feed to rollout their client intake system across the province. For the first year, use of the system was voluntary to refine the model for data collection. In 2015, use of the system was mandated for all Feed Ontario members and the rollout of the system was completed in 2016.

Feed Ontario member agencies collect household demographic information and report on usage statistics for clients accessing their services. This provides consistent service standards and data collection standards for all people seeking emergency food across the province.

A set of provincially required fields were developed and additional options were given to members to localize tracking efforts or for the collection of additional fields.

Release of first longitudinal study

In 2017, the Feed Ontario released their first “Hunger Report” using the data from Link2Feed. This iteration of the report represents the first time their organization, or any provincial hunger association in Canada, was able to release a longitudinal report, as previous iterations of the report used a point in time study.

Having a year’s worth of real-time data, Feed Ontario was able to speak to not only the total number of people using their services, but also to the frequency at which clients accessed in that year. One key insight of the report is that 50% of households only accessed food bank services three times or less per year (29% were only once), demonstrating these services are used on an emergency rather than ongoing basis.

Demographic variables, including details on housing sources, were utilized to create a special feature on affordable housing and how the province’s housing crisis was impacting food bank use.

This report provided a key resource for the association to seek media coverage and work with provincial policy makers to address issues facing their constituents. Having access to this real-time data in Link2Feed also means Feed Ontario can quickly respond to media inquiries or community-specific requests for information.

Link2Feed also serves an important operational role. Annually, the Feed Ontario distributes the equivalent of five million meals across the province, based on the number of unique individuals served by each member food bank. Having real-time data ensures that food distribution remains equitable throughout the year, as well as allows Feed Ontario to adjust distribution needs based on localized emergencies or unexpected challenges in any given community, such as a natural disaster or the closing of a major employer. 

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“Link2Feed is vital to Feed Ontario’s day-to-day operations, as well as our ongoing hunger research and advocacy. Not only has it dramatically improved our efficiency and service to the network, but it provides us with the real-time data that we need to accurately speak to the issue of hunger in our province and how it is impacting our communities. From a professional standpoint, the technical support and customer care that Link2Feed provides to our network is outstanding. We would not have been able to roll-out the program to over 1,200 agencies without the skilled support of their dedicated team.” Carolyn Stewart, Executive Director, Feed Ontario