Admit it: as we barrel towards the Christmas season, maybe your heart’s a little bigger. Or at least it feels that way.
Maybe you went to a Christmas parade and donated canned goods to local food banks. In Sydney, N.S., this weekend, Purolator was collecting food and Coats for Kids was looking for used winter wear. In Souris, P.E.I., there were collections for food banks and the SPCA. In St. John’s, NL, Newfoundland Power collected more than 15,500 pounds of food and $8,000 in a loonie drive for food banks.
And that’s only a sampling of the areas in this region where Christmas parades and food bank collections overlapped.
It’s needed, that’s for sure.
Food Banks Canada’s annual survey, Hunger Count, shows a steady increase in food bank use across the Atlantic provinces, with the biggest increase being Nova Scotia, with a single-year increase of 20.9 per cent in the number of people assisted by food banks. But there were increases in Newfoundland and Labrador (5.3 per cent), P.E.I. (6.9 per cent) and New Brunswick (4.1 per cent), too.
Across Canada in March, 2016, 863,492 people went to food banks, and 35.6 per cent of those were children. Chances are, the numbers are even higher now, given the current economic conditions.
Food banks and Christmas parade collections are not a solution. They are a symptom and a last resort. Research shows that users have generally exhausted all other forms of support before they head for food banks.
But there are alternatives. One of the things that the Hunger Count study did (you can see it here: http://bit.ly/2fcOXQj) was to also outline possible solutions for families facing such poverty that they can’t even afford to buy food.
And while having your kids bring food to a parade may well show them the importance of helping others and the importance of having a role in your community, there are other things that parents should be doing.
One of them is using your voice, and you can lead by example there as well.
Let politicians at all levels know that they have to do more to help Canadians than simply to depend on the good graces of those who donate now. The federal government promised a nationwide national poverty reduction strategy — let your federal representative know that you’re watching, and that you expect change.
Teach your kids the importance of donating, and the fact that they should be grateful that their circumstances are better than others — but teach them to be politically active, too.
Show them how to use their hearts and their voices.
The number of pounds of food collected at a Christmas parade is both a victory and a loss. The victory is that we open our cupboards to those in need — the greater loss is that there are so many empty cupboards in the first place.