by Ashley Chapman
Before the early ‘80s, there were no food banks in Canada. They were introduced as a temporary measure, but have since been entrenched—according to one long-time food bank volunteer—as “the grocery stores of the poor.”
In October, 45 volunteer groups in 36 Canadian cities hit the streets for an event dubbed “Chew on This!” organized by Dignity for All: The campaign for a poverty-free Canada. Everyone from food bank volunteers to anti-poverty coalitions to Christian university students hit the streets with a simple message: Canada needs an anti-poverty plan.
Food banks, meal programs and shelters are currently necessary, but they are also effective at masking Canada’s poverty rate. Approximately one in seven people are poor, and one in eight struggle to put food on the table.
While many Christians are drawn to important frontline charitable work, “Chew on This!” co-organizer Janelle Vandergrift explains that food banks don’t address the some of the factors that keep people in poverty.
“Poverty isn’t an equal opportunity offender,” she writes in an op-ed in the Edmonton Journal about the cross-country events.
“Some groups, like new immigrants, families led by single mothers, unattached adults, youth and Aboriginal people, are more likely to be poor than others.”
Indeed, about one in three new immigrants and female lone-parent families are poor, as are one in four people of Aboriginal identity. In The Burden of Poverty: A snapshot of poverty across Canada, Ottawa-based Christian policy organization Citizens for Public Justice explores these inequities and some of their underlying causes.
Long-term solutions, they find, require federal leadership. They cite the targeted drop in seniors’ poverty because of effective income security programs like the Guaranteed Income Supplement and Old Age Security as an example of a past success.
With churches’ and Christians’ extensive experience on the front lines of anti-poverty work, they have the credibility to call for more of these upstream solutions. With a call to mercy and justice, Christians shouldn’t just stock the shelves at “the grocery stores of the poor;” they should also work to end the need for a two-tier system.
The Chew on This event was covered by Ashley Chapman in Faith Today Nov/Dec. Read the article here.