In one Saturday recently Terrace RCMP auxiliary police officers collected $2400 in cash donations along with enough non-perishable food to cram four cruisers.
The donations will be warmly welcomed by the local churches food bank and their many recipients.
But every time we donate to a food bank we let our governments off the hook; we allow them to use our tax dollars as golden handshakes for CEOs paid million dollar salaries, new carpet in the premier’s office, a video to persuade us to accept the HST.
Shouldn’t we demand MPs and MLAs raise child benefits, increase welfare rates, improve access to high quality childcare, (another failed promise made repeatedly by both Liberal and Conservative governments) and design new housing programs for people with low incomes?
Childhood poverty increases risk of poor health, poor academic achievement, fewer recreational opportunities, sub-standard housing, higher injury rates, teen pregnancy, gang violence, and higher school drop-out rates.
In a letter Trish Garner, organizer of the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition, writes: “You should recognize that giving to charity is a political act that supports the government not doing enough, an act that says you’re okay with things the way they are.”
Well, I’m not okay with the way things are.
When the first food bank opened in Terrace in the 1980s we were given to believe it was a temporary measure, something to tide families over as the local Skeena mill laid off workers and padlocked its doors. We expected employment would soon get back to normal, those who wanted to work would be offered jobs by some other company.
We didn’t expect unemployment would take root, spawn food banks all over town and became a mainstay in Terrace and the northwest.
Canada’s first-ever food bank began in 1981 in Edmonton when a few individuals from various local non-profit organizations realized hunger was affecting the lives of many of their clients while edible food was being wasted in the community.
They dreamed of reconciling these realities by setting up a way for surplus food from the food industry to reach those going hungry.
Today, nationwide Canada has over 900 food banks.
“The need for food banks is a result of our failure as a country to adequately address a number of social issues,” says Katharine Schmidt, executive director of Food Banks Canada, “including a changing job market, a lack of affordable housing and child care, and a social safety net that is ineffective.”
Consider for a moment:
In 1989 all parties in Parliament agreed to end child poverty by the year 2000. Yet today – 22 years later – we have more food banks than ever. Food banks have become a way of life for many. And we doggedly donate whenever asked believing we are rescuing those less fortunate.
In fact we’re perpetuating their misery and teaching them to depend upon handouts. Where’s the dignity in that?
What we should do is demand our governments – provincial and federal – actually activate a plan to end poverty.
Early in 2010 NDP MP Tony Martin introduced a private member’s bill, C545, An Act to Eliminate Poverty in Canada. Like most private members’ bills, it died. The commitment and intention of MPs to reduce poverty died, too.
As usual, elected representatives have turned back to being re-elected, cutting ribbons, photo-op announcements from Kitwanga to Kitimat, upstaging each other during question period, and frittering away valuable time parrying reporters’ questions.
And I should cover for them by donating?