A St. John's disabled senior has been in the news lately (Lewis Kearny) for stealing $40 worth of food from a local store because he could not afford to buy it. This incident touched many of us, as it was very sad to see the plight of this man. But what never comes through the media coverage of this issue is: "Do food banks work?”
When I was deputy mayor of the Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay and the executive director of the Labrador Friendship Centre (who ran the local community food bank), I was often requested to speak at public forums. I would tell the audience that as a community we would love to say that we do not have a food bank or need a food bank in our community, but the fact of the matter is we do, and we all need to support it.
It is our social responsibility. The very essence of our human nature is to share and thus, my stance on this topic is: "Absolutely, food banks do help."
However, the issue of the need to have and operate community food banks has not changed — nor will change in the foreseeable future — much over the last few years and the opposite is actually happening.
Donations are down in many food banks during the summer months and the demand is up significantly. On a positive note, the general effort to support community food banks is a true testament to the compassionate nature of our society and Labradorians in general. We as the general public really do care about the less fortunate in our community.
In addition to my above statement about media, what also never seems to come through is the very fact that research and facts show that only fraction of the people who are struggling to put food on the table use food banks. This fact is quite amazing to hear because food banks literally help define the public's perception of hunger in our society.
A national survey, conducted by a reputable research organization based in Toronto, estimated that somewhere between one in every four people will use food banks in order to have enough food to meet their needs. Most people who utilize food banks do it as a last resort. They do it to feed themselves and their families. Sometimes, the choice and challenge between having something to eat and buying school books is overwhelming for parents.
Similarly, the challenge for food banks is the system is completely donor driven based on the generosity of others. Thus, food banks are only able to give out what they get. And they never have enough food to meet the increasing demand of everyone who requires assistance.
People often don’t get enough to meet their individual and family needs until their next cheque comes. And there lies our greatest challenge and for me is somewhat tragic — because the need is great — and many times greater than food banks can deliver.
So, in addition to food banks, what else can we, member of the general public, do to help?
To answer my own question, more government support for people living on low income would be a start. Government needs to figure out how to translate its own social commitment into increased support for people who have perilously low incomes. For those of us who worked in the not-for-profit community, this is the fundamental question associated with social values and how government should react and deliver enhanced social programs.
Our province will soon be in the midst of yet another provincial general election (as well the Tories will soon choose a new leader) and I believe we need to take those social questions and make sure those values are to put in the ballot box. We need to entrench the concept that "food is right.”
But again for many of our society and unfortunately it has not been translated into our public sector thoughts. And it needs to be!
I honestly believe, that the same kind people who currently support our local food banks would agree with me, that the government could and should do more to support people who depend on income support and in particular food banks. Everyone deserves to have a good meal.
— Stan Oliver writes from Happy Valley-Goose Bay and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .