Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hunger in Our Backyard

How important is food to you?

Sounds like a silly question, doesn’t it? But according to our local Health Unit, 8.2% of the population of Leeds and Grenville Counties reported food insecurity (hunger) last year. That’s almost 6000 hungry local households in my area.

For those of us with enough to eat, these statistics may seem shocking. We can’t tell by passing someone on the street whether they’ve eaten anything nutritious recently. But ask any school teacher about the need for ‘breakfast clubs’, lunch stashes, and cafeteria vouchers, and you’ll realize that there are hungry children in this city. And where the children hunger, so do the adults.

This past week, the Health Unit gathered participants from their fall ‘Food Matters’ Campaign to discuss their experience of living off charity food for a week. Many of our civic leaders spent a week living off a three day supply of food from their local food bank and whatever meals they could find from Churches and community kitchens (like the local Pier Church’s meal program, or Loaves and Fishes Restaurant).

All participants, who should be heartily commended for this act of solidarity, spoke of the hardship of dealing with the lack of fresh vegetables and fruits, the blandness of the packaged food, and the difficulty of making the food stretch. They reported trouble focusing, and a sense of gratitude that it was only a one week experiment. None of course experienced the issues that poor families often have with no transportation (how do you get the food home?), lack of cookware, or figuring out how to make a non-existent budget stretch to shelter, clothing, or children’s needs. Or the hopelessness of seeing no end in sight.

Discussions afterwards focused on better ways to feed our community. I was impressed by the many creative ideas, the dedication of those present from all walks, and the leadership by the Health Unit.

Food banks are important, as are community gardens, low income restaurants and Church dinners. One participant pointed out that the dinners in particular provide a social outlet for people who may hunger for more than food. The volunteers who run Food Banks and community meals deserve our deepest gratitude and active participation. But while we should keep the practice of creating community, these also rely on charity, and charity is not enough.

It’s time for our politicians to really ask themselves the question of how they will resolve the issue of poverty. It’s not okay that you have to be a mathematical genius to budget on our social assistance programs, or that so many working families are one crisis away from hunger. It's not okay that parents must choose between eating or letting their children go to birthday parties. It’s not okay that hungry people must hope that the Churches and citizens of their town are feeling generous if they want to eat.

By the way, it’s no surprise to me that people of faith and Churches do so much to combat poverty. The kingdom of God is not accessed through a statement of creed, but rather through the living Word, action on behalf of the poor and marginalized. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my own, you do to me.” (Matt 25:40)

But we can do better. We must. In Ontario we need to figure out how to include the $100 healthy food supplement for people on assistance. We need to fund community gardens for all. We need public transportation that allows access to jobs, banks, clinics, and food. We need incentives for businesses to hire full-time workers with benefits, not a succession of low-paid casuals.

And more than anything else, we need creative compassionate political leadership at all levels of government that will make ending poverty their first priority.

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1 comment:

  1. 6000 hungry households! That's disgraceful. Thanks for bringing attention to this very real (and very local) issue.