Wingham Advance-Times/Listowel Banner editorial
When was the last time you were hungry? Not the growly feeling you get when lunch is a bit late, and not the inclination to munch on something while watching the telly. Hunger, as in black coffee for breakfast, no lunch, and a big question mark regarding supper – the same as yesterday, and probably tomorrow. Hunger, as in too many meals of pasta or rice with a packet of ketchup.
The kind of hunger that saps your strength and leaves you and your kids prone to illness.
The kind of hunger that reminds you how totalitarian regimes have used food deprivation and a diet low in nutrients to break the spirit of prisoners, because it leaves people exhausted and hopeless.
Strange as it seems for an area where agriculture is the leading industry, hunger is a reality for hundreds of people in this community. There are moms who frequently skip a meal so the kids can have a bit more food on their plates; kids who pretend to be too cool to eat lunch, when the truth is there is nothing to bring for lunch; and parents who have to choose between paying the hydro or buying a few groceries.
These are the people who turn to area food banks for help.
They could be your neighbours, the family whose kids play with your kids, someone you went to school with or a friend who lost his job – the recent economic downturn caused a number of businesses and manufacturing plants to close their doors, affecting many people in this area.
May 7-11 is Hunger Awareness Week. The intent is to draw attention to hunger in our community. People have been asked to get up close and personal with hunger by skipping lunches or going without a staple food.
The concept sounds good, but going without lunch when there is a good supply of food within easy reach is not the same thing as going without lunch when you have no idea if there will be supper. It is similar to a plan a few years back to get certain municipal leaders to feed their families for a week on a poverty budget. Not hard when you know it is only a week – and when you have expensive spices and seasonings on hand to make even cheap food taste good.
The “traditional” users of food banks have not gone away. But food banks are also seeing an increasing number of people who have slipped from the middle class into poverty – people whose EI has run out; people who have suffered an illness or injury and can no longer work; low income earners who used to be able to make ends meet but no longer can, thanks to the skyrocketing cost of hydro and heating fuel.
Some people use the local food bank only once or twice a year, while others depend on it on a regular basis. It should be noted no food bank provides all the food a family needs, just enough to last a few days. But when the cupboards are bare and it is a week before the welfare cheque arrives, help from the food bank is a godsend.
We live in a generous community where people respond to emergencies with their hearts, hands and chequebooks. Those of us who can afford to give more to the food bank, need to. These are our neighbours. But we need to take things a step further.
When growing numbers of people in one of the richest countries on earth are depending on food banks, it is not an emergency but an outrage, and we need to do something. Important though they are, food banks are a Band-Aid solution.
Welfare payments so low no one can survive on them, and hydro, heating fuel and other costs so high even people with jobs have to turn to food banks, scream loudly our society has taken a wrong turn.
Even the most vicious criminals in our prisons are entitled to three square meals a day. When did poverty become a crime warranting harsher punishment than mass murder? Do we think starving people and humiliating them will help them find decent employment? What comes next, workhouses for orphans and the “feeble-minded?”
Our elected decision makers must get over this punitive attitude to poverty that seems more in keeping with Dickensian England than new millennium Canada. We must make them aware hunger has no place in an enlightened, civilized society. Fortunately, we voters know how to get the message across.