Hope Centre is one of the recipients of proceeds from the city-wide food drive, taking place this year on Saturday, Nov. 1. (photos by Joe Barkovich)
By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large
It’s drawing near to city-wide food drive time in Welland. I see it as revolving door time.
Open Arms Mission on Fifth Street is a recipient, as is Salvation Army, located on the second floor in Seaway Mall.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a critic of the city-wide food drive, I’m not pooh-poohing its need. But I am saying we need to do something more than have this annual food drive in support of three food banks in Welland. Aren’t we getting just a little bit weary of applying a band-aid to a social problem that needs something more?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying charity doesn’t have a role in helping people in need. Charity does great work in our local communities. We couldn’t get along without it, no doubt about it. Who would fill the gap if, in Welland: Harvest Kitchen dinners stopped being served, Hope Centre stopped providing noon time meals, Open Arms Mission stopped supplying food to those in need, St. Vincent de Paul put an end to its outreaches to the poor, the food drive committee closed up shop and said no more city-wide food drive, if….if…..if. The list goes on.
There’s no shortage of statistics and data showing just how much food banks and other social safety net initiatives do, that’s for sure:
- Food banks help more than 800,000 Canadians every month, according to Hunger Count 2013, the annual report by Food Banks Canada;
- In March of this year, 833,098 people received food from a food bank in Canada. Of those helped, 36% were children and 77,920 were turning to a food bank for the first time. During the same period, 4,341,659 meals were prepared and served by soup kitchens, shelters, school breakfast initiatives, and other programs – Hunger Count 2013;
- The number of people helped by food banks has not dropped below 700,000 people per month for the better part of the past 15 years. Four million people in Canada, including more than a million children, have inadequate or insecure access to food because they cannot afford enough to meet their needs – Hunger Count 2013;
- 38% of food banks have been forced to cut back the amount of food they provide to each household because they do not have enough – Hunger Count 2013;
- In 2012, a total of 12,107 individuals were served at Niagara food banks. This amount has grown by 38% since 2008. A total of 36% of these individuals were children, according to a report – Niagara Hunger Statistics, by the Region of Niagara;
- 9.9 % of Niagara households are “food insecure” which means they constantly fret about putting healthy, nutritious food on their tables – Niagara Hunger Statistics;
- 1 in 8 households in Canada struggle to feed their families, 1 in 5 lone parents live in poverty and 1 in 3 people who use food banks are children, according to Dignity for All, a campaign working for a poverty-free Canada;
- “Despite urging from committees in the House of Commons, the Senate and the United Nations, Canada has no federal plan on poverty. We have no strategy in place to prevent the systemic causes of poverty for the 3.8 million people in Canada who struggle to put food on the table” – Dignity for All.
My point is this: donating to the food drive, picking up non-perishables at the front door, distributing those donations to the food banks doesn’t cut it. It doesn’t solve the problem.
Once Welland Food Drive Day is over, the problem “out there” is not fixed. Once Welland Food Drive Day is over, don’t put away your social activism in your dresser drawer or your closet until this time next year. You’re needed elsewhere!
Boxes of cereal await being placed on shelves at a local food bank.
Food drives and food banks don’t stop poverty. In fact, there are indications that some or many are losing ground because they run short of or out of food or have to turn people away from time to time. They run short maybe because donor fatigue is taking a toll and maybe because the number of people who have less to donate than in previous years is on the rise.
Here’s my bottom line: We’re great when it comes to charity, but maybe not so great when it comes to social justice activism. We need a plan!
For one thing, people need to get involved in grassroots, anti-poverty activism. They should find a group and join it. They should invite an anti-poverty activist to speak at their church, community group, service club so that more people have better understanding about social issues like food insecurity, the need for a living wage, the trauma of part-time jobs in the labour force – 15 or 18 hours a week now seen as an emerging trend, the need for public policy that puts people first, the importance of collective action when it comes to working for change. They should sign petitions, ensure the social safety net is kept strong and secure, agitate politicians to work on behalf of the dignity of all of us. Poverty and social justice are in tandem, just as poverty and charity are in tandem. It’s time to move social justice from the backburner, where it is for many of us, to the frontburner so it can get the attention it deserves and requires.
Next Saturday, Nov. 1, make sure that bag or box of non-perishables is at your front door by 10 a.m. so it can be gathered by food drive volunteers. But also remember to make social justice a bigger part of your life in one way or another. I like what St. Augustine had to say about this: “Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.” That’s My View too, and I won’t be dissuaded from it.
(A former reporter and city editor, Joe Barkovich lives in his hometown of Welland, Ontario, Canada’s Rose City. My View is a recurring feature on the blog.)