(You can skip down to the action part of this blog if you are pressed for time!)
(I’m not going to deal with measures to curb poverty and root causes of Canadian hunger here, as anti-poverty measures are a topic of a future blog.)
Hunger as it exists here, tends to be hidden. The hungry faces of the homeless are a familiar site to those of us living in a city, but they don’t represent the ‘typical’ hungry Canadian. Being hungry, I mean really hungry, isn’t something that is spoken of in polite company. Hunger is often seen as a barometer of social fitness. Somehow being hungry is far too often seen as a type of Darwinian consequence of being unworthy, lazy, or (to use the vernacular), ‘a loser’. Hunger, therefore, is often a ‘dirty little secret’.
Metaphorical hunger, and its place in homilies is about as close as most Canadians come to experiencing real hunger. However, the number Canadians who do know hunger is growing. Some of the statistics may surprise you. Loss of full-time jobs and the increasing number of working poor means that the employed now comprise the third largest group of those served at food banks. (The continued growth of low-wage economy will only increase these numbers.)
Not surprisingly, families with children make up more than 50%, those receiving disability incomes make up the second largest group, and those on welfare make up the largest. (Food Banks Canada, About Hunger)
Along with the growth of low-wage, part-time and contract positions instead of full-time and permanent positions, government cutbacks to many of the social safety nets in Canada over the years has resulted in huge increases in the numbers of people seeking help at food banks - between 2009 and 2010 Manitoba saw a 21% increase, Saskatchewan a 20% increase, P.E. I. a 13% increase, Quebec a 12% increase, Nova Scotia an 11% increase, and Alberta a 10% increase. (All statistics taken from Food Banks Canada – see side bar for sources.) In 2010, Food Banks Canada calculated that 7.2% of all Canadian adults were assisted by food banks in a typical month.
Food banks, for many, are a last resort. I can tell you from personal experience (in my student days) that visiting a food bank for the first time takes a certain level of desperation, and most people struggle for a long, long time before they get to the point of being desperate enough to enter those doors. By the time you get there, you are ashamed, secretive, and very very grateful for what you receive. Food banks are, for many, a last resort.
The challenges facing food banks are daunting, however. The statistics published by Food Banks Canada (Food Banks Canada, Facts and Statistics) last year are as follows:
· 27% of food banks lack adequate funding
· 31% don’t have enough food to meet demand
· 50% have been forced to reduce their average ‘basket’
· 57% had to increase the usual amount of food purchased in order to meet the need
· Almost half of all Canadian food banks have no paid staff
· 15% are having a problem finding enough volunteers to meet daily needs
Those frequenting food banks are only one segment of the underfed Canadian population. Statistics are hard to come by, for obvious reasons.
What You Can Do
"If you can't feed a hundred people, then just feed one.”Mother Teresa
The fact is that you, as an individual, will most likely be unable to eliminate world hunger, and it’s unlikely that you will be able to eradicate hunger in North America, or to change someone’s life so profoundly that you will stamp out the context that gave rise to his/her hunger. You do, however, have the capability of wiping out hunger for one person, for a few hours. This is not insignificant.
The following is a list of ten things that you can do to make a small difference in a hungry person’s life. I challenge all of you to do at least three over the next two weeks. Write to me (firstname.lastname@example.org), tell me what you did, and how it went. Send me your suggestions, too. I’ll publish your story (anonymously if you want), celebrate your involvement, and help encourage others to act as well. So, here’s my list:
Ten Things You Can Do Over the Next Month to Make A Difference:
1. Feed a homeless person:
A. Buy a homeless person lunch (or breakfast, or supper).
B. Pack an extra lunch before you leave the house, and give it to a homeless person. (Hint: many homeless people have dental problems, so try to avoid apples, raw carrots, and other ‘hard’ food. Also avoid foods that people are commonly allergic to, like peanuts, strawberries, shellfish, etc.)
2. Donate some food to a food bank:
A. Buy some extra non-perishable food during your weekly shopping, and drop it in the box designated for food banks. Most grocery stores in this area have them. (Dabbler.ca, June 2, 2008, estimated that if only 3% of Canadians bought one can of food a month and donated it, it would significantly reduce hunger in Canada.)
B. If your local grocery store does not have a box designated for donations to food banks, talk to your store manager and ask him/her to create one and make arrangements to have the food dropped off once a week.
3. Donate an hour or more of your time to your local food bank.
4. Donate some money to your local food bank.
5. Think outside the box:
A. Many universities have vouchers for grocery stores that they give to students when they are needy, many churches have parishioners who are experiencing difficult times, and most of us know someone who is struggling. Buy vouchers, or bake a casserole and drop it off (and be sensitive to the stigma attached to being hungry!).
B. Invite a friend or acquaintance who is underemployed for dinner (ditto, above).
C. Make arrangements to plant a bit extra in your summer garden, and then plan to drop off the surplus food at a food bank.
D. Better yet, plan to drop off the extra with a local family you know who might need it.
6. Start inform other people, and help bring more awareness to the issue.
7. Sign up for an e-newsletter with Food Banks Canada
8. June 5 is National Hunger Awareness Day. Do something to commemorate it.
9. Write or email your local MP, and the Prime Minister, asking them to do something concrete to deal with hunger. If you don’t know the name or contact information of your local MP, you can find it here. You can write to Stephen Harper, or any member of parliament, AND MAIL IT WITHOUT A STAMP, at: Name of Member of Parliament
House of Commons
10. Get in touch with Food Banks Canada and find out how you can help:
Food Banks Canada
2150 Lakeshore Blvd. W
Toll free: 1-877-535-0958