The other day I was invited to the local food bank in Sooke to see how much food was collected, after a short call-out in the newspaper for donations.
The pile of non-perishable food was astounding – evidence of the generosity of people. In small communities, the people who need help are very visible and we cross paths with them frequently.
Sooke is no different than any other small town on the Island or across the country for that matter. There are poor people who live here. Poor – not less fortunate, under-privileged or low income – just plain down-and-out poor.
While some may be poor because they don’t or can’t work, many others are poor because they are under-educated and can’t find those illusive jobs out there that pay a decent living wage. It’s not entirely their fault. They have failed in some way to find that lucky break or lucky attitude that sends them on their way to the top of the pile.
We are luckier here than people in the U.S., because we have a reasonable social safety net. We can get health care without going bankrupt and we can eke out a living even on social assistance or employment insurance.
But it isn’t enough – thus the need for food banks.
Food banks are shameful. In this resource-rich country we live in, no one should have to resort to using a food bank to feed themselves. When you see folks drinking $5 coffees and averting their eyes from the homeless and destitute, something is sadly out of whack.
When people’s conversation turns to the inane: reality shows that are so far from reality that it is laughable, over-paid sports figures, stars dancing with each other, or even home-decorating shows, it becomes evident our society is in trouble.
It’s like a mass opiate. Fill people’s heads with nonsense and they won’t know or care about what is really going on. We have come to a point where we have accepted food banks as being normal. When people are lining up to get something to eat, this signals dysfunction.
Food banks have been around for a long time, in times of economic health as well as downturns in the economy. If they were only around when things are a “bit slow,” it would be one thing, but food banks are also there in times of affluence.
We need a little more compassion – charity does begin at home. There are so many ways one can help and it is not just about money, although that helps a lot.
Amazing volunteers give their time and expertise, donations come from you and me, thereby letting the government off the hook. Sure there are people who abuse the system, whether it is cheating a food bank or the government, but most people who come with hat in hand are hungry, or their kids are hungry.
Until there is a will to fix the bigger societal problems, food banks will be necessary. No one should be going hungry.
One volunteer at the Sooke Food Bank said they receive absolutely no government money of any kind to operate. Legislators who make funding decisions should spend some time volunteering at a food bank. Maybe then it would warm their hearts, open the collective wallet, and provide more for those who honestly need it.
Oh, and add to the list the over-burdened and under-funded/non-funded crisis centres. You get the picture.
Pirjo Raits is editor of the Sooke News Mirror.