By Murray MacAdam
Many Canadians are marking national Hunger Awareness Week (May 7-11) by digging into their pantry or their wallets to give extra food or cash to their local food bank. But a fledgling new organization called the Freedom 90 Union is taking a totally different approach. Its founding members, many in their seventies and eighties, want to be put out of their food bank and meal program volunteer jobs before they reach age 90. They are getting tired, and they never imagined they’d have to keep doing this work year after year.
The group was launched at a May 7 press conference at All Saints Church Community Centre, Toronto, where several veteran food bank volunteers spoke out forcefully against hunger and poverty in Ontario. Some 400,000 people in Ontario, including 148,000 children, rely on food banks each month to keep hunger at bay.
“In our experience, more people are coming every year to our programs,” said food bank volunteer Marsha Fox. “We disagree with Premier McGuinty’s decision to raise social assistance rates by only 1 per cent (in the 2012 budget) and to postpone the next installment of the Ontario Child Tax Benefit. The government’s poverty reduction strategy is inadequate.”
Instead, say these food bank volunteers, food banks could be made obsolete if the government introduced poverty alleviation programs, including more affordable housing, a higher minimum wage, and higher social assistance rates. “Our charity will never be enough to meet the needs of people who do not have enough money for food,” said Teresa Porter, a volunteer with a United Church lunch program in Newmarket.
Pauline Apperley, a member of the Parish of the Evangelists in Tottenham and director of the local Our Town Food Bank, is another founding member of Freedom 90. “In Canada, we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” she says. “I wish that it included the right to food and shelter so that food banks would become redundant.”
The new association stresses that it does not advocate the closing of food banks, but that charity has its limits and as a society we should work to make food banks obsolete. Several Anglicans attended the press conference and will promote Freedom 90 in their parishes and with local food bank volunteers. “The Freedom 90 movement is exactly right,” says Ruth Schembri, a member of All Saints, Kingsway, in Toronto. “ We must stop thinking of food banks as part of the fabric of our society. We need to rage against the need for and the existence of food banks.”