Eat the math. A tale of two cities…

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The Stop Community Food Centre is an amazing program in Toronto that we have had the opportunity to visit twice in the last five years.

Their website describes their growth from one of Canada’s first food banks into a “thriving community hub where neighbours participate in a broad range of programs that provide healthy food, as well as foster social connections, build food skills and promote engagement in civic issues.”

They have a real community atmosphere, and their facilities are welcoming friendly spaces that include “community kitchens and gardens, cooking classes, drop-in meals, peri-natal support, a food bank, outdoor bake ovens, food markets and community advocacy.”

This past summer, when we went for our last tour, we were all impressed by the new programs they had added since our previous visit (namely their gorgeous Green Barn), and their commitment to making a difference in the lives of the people coming to their centre and living in the city.

One initiative that they were just in the process of rolling out was Do The Math a web-based excercise that lets people put themselves in the shoes of a Ontario Works recipient trying to budget for a month.  I recommend you do it and share it with everyone you can! It’s a very eye-opening exercise in futility that reveals the brutal choices tens of thousands of people have to make each day in order to survive.

To highlight these choices and how hard their consequences, (i.e. food insecurity and hunger) can be each day they have challenged some high profile Torontonians to see how far they can stretch an emergency food hamper from the Stop and to talk about it on a collective blog.

So far the participants have expressed thoughts and experiences that we often hear at our program from new volunteers, new staff and first time visitors.  They’re overwhelmed by the level of need and the challenge that accessing and using emergency food can be.  In the Toronto Star yesterday  Dr. David McKeown, the Toronto Medical Officer of Health identified the lack of choice as a major difficulty for him, stating:

“Food is a very important part of our life and I didn’t get to eat any of the things that I enjoy. In work settings, and family settings with friends, I couldn’t join in with the food that was part of the events. So there is a sense of isolation that you get when you are not able to be a part of what others who have more resources are enjoying. Food is very much a part of our family and cultural life.”

Hunger is a complicated issue and there are a lot of misconceptions, stereotypes and judgements that get mixed into most public debates about how to address it.  Some of the comments made by Toronto city councilor Joe Mihevc,  at the press conference that kicked off the challenge, highlight the need for a better, broader discussion about the issues.

In fact, Mihevc’s entire family took part in the challenge.  In the Star one of his daughters talks about how her parents used drop in meal programs to help stretch their hamper a little further, stating, “I wasn’t really hungry but that’s because my mom and dad let my sister and me eat before they ate.”

Poverty and food insecurity present you with many stark choices and force you to prioritize.  Visit the dentist or buy a winter coat?   Pay the hydro or the rent (and get evicted later anyways when they shut off your hydro)?  Go hungry so your kids can eat today or all go hungry together later when all the food is gone?

Are these the choices that people should have to make?

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