It happens each year during this season and it’s remarkable. The unfolding pageant of Londoners expending their time, good wishes and money on needed services and gifts for our community’s marginalized is an inspiring movement.
Christmas and the poor are joined at the hip and that linkage is perhaps the most radical of the redeeming gifts Christmas has passed on to us. Think of George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, assisting the poor in attaining shelter as he slowly slides into poverty himself. There’s White Christmas, where an aging general is about to lose his inn, and A Christmas Carol, when Ebenezer Scrooge learns that even great wealth must bow to the urgent needs of those with little. The best of the Christmas spirit has been reserved for those who get beyond themselves to serve others.
And so the majority of us, moved by a spirit we can’t fully comprehend, play our bit parts in the millennia-old drama of taking something from what we have to give to some families without. It’s a human movement older than London, but it continues to define the best in us.
The opportunities to give back during this season are many, but a new initiative has arrived that might prove more fundamental than the usual Christmas efforts.
Issues emerging from the Occupy Wall Street movement have found support in London well beyond the Victoria Park occupiers. The global movement lit a spark in affluent and developing nations that speaks to abiding concerns over the problems created by global income disparity.
London has hosted two major conferences in the last few weeks dealing with poverty’s abiding effects in our community. And a recent symposium at the Central Library on the subject was well attended by a dynamic cross-section of the community, proving again that these issues are capturing attention.
The new Citizens’ Panel, which was developed at the suggestion of the City of London and which I chair, as a response to Occupy issues has made its initial forays into the community, dealing with problems stemming from income disparity.
Other opportunities for participation are coming forward. For example, on Jan. 15, the faith community will hold a gathering of churches at St. Paul’s Cathedral to examine a co-ordinated and compassionate response to the income gap.
Meanwhile, the focus of the Citizens’ Panel revolves around two opportunities:
To participate in the city’s budget process, and to participate in the first major social assistance review in the province in 20 years — a process that provides for community input at numerous levels.
Londoners will be afforded the opportunity to speak to the Social Assistance Review Commission and the Citizens’ Panel aims to get as many Londoners as possible registering their impressions and solutions on the growing poverty situation in Canada.
How will our community handle the growing poverty rate among seniors who can’t obtain an increase in their pensions and who lost much of their savings in the economic downturn? More seniors than ever are showing up in emergency shelters.
Then there are those with mental health issues unable to obtain a proper diagnosis and who bounce in and out of emergency shelters, often ending up on the street. The nature of the present employment predicament will also be discussed and reviewed.
In a city alive with charitable spirit over the season, here is your opportunity as a citizen to speak directly to public policy. There are a few key questions that require your input. You can attend one of the events mentioned above or reply to the questions online at www.londonpolicyresponse.com.
As poverty grows more systemic across the country, more serious reflection by governments and citizens will be required to reverse the damage.
Why not add to your generosity this season by donating 15 minutes of your time for an initiative that could have significant effect? Your city and province are requested your input. Maybe if we respond in good enough numbers, our future Christmas seasons might increase in spirit and decrease in oppressive poverty. That would be a Christmas gift for the ages.
Note: This was originally a column written for the London Free Press on December 24, 2011.