This week sees our 25th annual citywide spring food drive in London. It should have been like old hat but it wasn’t. Twenty-five years is a long time for a food bank that people hoped would be temporary in nature. Well, it’s not appearing transient, and neither are the hundreds of food banks spread across Canada who are now facing challenging futures.
When we started our food bank in the fall of 1986 (we were incorporated the next year), we averaged around 300 families helped a month. Now, our busiest month ever was January, where we helped 3660 per month (9000 individuals). Roughly 40% of those helped are children, and we are seeing numerous new clients who were working only one year ago. More seniors on fixed pensions are visiting our operation, as are students, those with mental health challenges, and those who can’t locate affordable housing.
The future hardly looks any better. In a time of restraint budgets you can be sure that some of the stringent measures will be on the backs of the marginalized. Some economists tell us we have turned the corner on the recession and that we can now begin the process of paying off our debts. But that’s only true for certain sectors. In London, there is a waiting time of 8.3 years for those requiring affordable housing. Young people can’t find work. Small businesses can’t get nearly the attention or perks the larger corporations get for settling into a community. For all of these people, and others, there is no such thing as a recession ended. It’s still here. It’s aggressive. And it has them by the throat.
Is this what we wanted as communities? Weren’t we all supposed to win? Capitalism and democracy were to work hand in hand and produce prosperity for all those willing to contribute, weren’t they? Where we used to make money by manufacturing products people wanted, many are making money on money. More money flows around this country than ever before in our history, but it’s not coming to our communities. It’s up at 60,000 feet – out of reach and increasingly out of touch.
At what point did we as Canadians settle for accommodating poverty instead of alleviated it? When did we reach the stage where thousands in our communities without hope and resources was acceptable? I know we will always have the poor with us, but to that status are added the fabulously wealthy seeking more bailouts, more breaks, less taxes and less intrusion – they, too, are becoming a permanent part of our struggling democratic landscape.
I was in the gallery of the House of Commons in 1989, when every single member in that Chamber voted to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. There was applauding and many tears, including my own. Yet in times of great plenty, with economic booms and money being made hand over fist, we permitted children in poverty to double. I understand some believe the poor will always be with us; but poor children? Really?
Starting today we begin a new series on the “Hunger Games” – not the movie, but the abiding, pressing reality of malnutrition and empty stomachs. These are real things, affecting real people, and having real consequences on our society and around the world.
I ask again: weren’t we all supposed to win? Forget this Great Recession as an excuse. For some three decades poverty was growing among us, curtailing the energies of children, and shattering the hopes of their parents. Our current economic struggles are no excuse for a nation that saw growth like few others for decades. We just lost our way, that’s all. Of course we care for children in want. Naturally we desire to link people with meaningful jobs. Absolutely we want enough food on everyone’s table. Somehow we just didn’t get around to it. We grew distracted by materialism, or subtle prejudice against welfare, or grew weary of the very governments themselves that were required to find solutions.
Well, it’s time to end all that. The hunger games are on and there’s no sense in Canada accepting an outcome where only a few people win. It’s all of us or it’s a country that failed to hold its birthright. Should we permit growing hunger, then we have already lost.