Posts Tagged ‘child hunger’

Hunger Count 2015: A Local Preview

April 14, 2015

There, but for the grace of God, go I

Much to my mother’s chagrin, I can never remember how to ‘properly’ set a table and where to place forks and knives and all the assorted meal consumption equipment.

from elegantwoman.org

This, from elegantwoman.org is still no help

Now that I am older, I have a number of toddling children to coordinate and shepherd to the table, and as a result everything gets placed on the table in a largely haphazard manner.  Being young children, much of everything on their plates, including the plates themselves, ends up on the floor. I clean up the mess while my partner gives them a bath and attempts to persuade them not to give a repeat performance with the bath water.

That’s one cheery picture of family meal time, but many different scenarios play out every day around tables in every community great and small in Canada.  Often, not so cheery.

How do you set a table for 5500?

For a long time now, March is the month when Food Banks carry out the Hunger Count and share their service numbers with their respective provincial bodies, who in turn share them with the national network, headed up by Food Banks Canada.  This March was no different, and later in the year, both bodies will publish a formal report highlighting the state of food insecurity in this country based on this reporting.

What does this have to do with table etiquette?

Well, this March we gave out 2561 food hampers to around 2294 households, or 5515 people, including 757 children five years or younger.

So while many of us were passing the butter or the milk or whatever else was needed at the other side of the dinner table, every day in our community about 250 people were fretting about how to split a box of free food.  Some did not have enough to go around and skipped meals, some restricted access to different foods or compromised with cheaper items, others limited portion sizes, or used a variety of other coping strategies.  (See the dietitians of Canada for a more comprehensive discussion on pages six and seven.)

Yes, we were able to share food with a lot of people, but March is a good example of the strengths and weaknesses of programs like ours.

Not enough free food, is still not enough food

So, take two people that we served last month, I’ll call them Raul and Cody for the simple reason that those are not their names and they want to remain anonymous.

Raul and his wife came in and filled out the food list we have. They also spent a couple minutes whispering between themselves, trying to figure out how to spell ‘thank you,’ in their second language, along with some of the other needs they had that day.

Next is Cody, who has some serious food restrictions because of medical conditions, which is another way of saying, because of how his body works.  Human biology is pretty complex, and while it usually gets along fine, lots of people get pretty uncomfortable when they eat the wrong things. Cody has a combination of food sensitivities and health issues.  His choices are therefore massively constrained.

So how well were we able to meet the needs of these two different families?

Our program allocates food that people require for their survival.  It would be nice if it was otherwise, but today it is not, and this introduces many difficult negotiations into our daily work.

Annotated food slips

Annotated food slips

To figure out who gets what, we use a quota system. This is our attempt at fairness, and it’s not perfect. Essentially, it helps us manage what we have so we don’t totally run out half way through a day, or week and shut our doors to the public.

We start each day with a more or less known quantity of food, but we do not know the number of people we will serve.  We have a rough idea, but cannot tailor our supply to everyone, or even those who need it the most because we don’t know they’re coming, or in what number.  We may run out of different things, we may need to restrict access based on family size, and we may not have the items you really need if you have a restrictive diet.

March was difficult because, while we did have some nice things (whole coconuts, plantains, pluots, apples, mangos and papaya) we didn’t have them the entire month. Some days we had no fresh vegetables and/or fruit and had to restrict quantities vigorously most of the time because demand outstripped supply.

Did I say something wrong?

So, you may have come in March and wondered if some sort of mistake happened once you got your box home and started trying to figure out what to do with the items.  Most of the weeks, we did not have a lot to fill the boxes.  Looking back on previous experiences here, you may have wondered why today you only received a quarter of what had been there in a previous visit.

So, we were able to share something with Cody and Raul, with help from volunteers, a generous community and a lot of planning and effort, but ultimately, they left our warehouse with many of their requests unmet, for the simple reason that we just didn’t have the items they were looking for.

Real solutions

There will be a good deal of virtual and real ink spilled once the final “Hunger Count Report” is issued later this year, but the solutions can be summarized simply in this way:

Make housing affordable for people on a fixed income, rebuild our social safety net so that no one must choose between staying warm and eating real food, support children and their families (because children aren’t poor, families are) and support job retraining and skills development for those who have the biggest barriers to entering the workforce.

The next time you set a place at your dinner table, consider this last March and families like Raul’s and Cody’s.  It’ll give you something to talk about while you pass the mashed potatoes.

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Child nutrition in Canada: poverty, health and well-being

July 17, 2012

A few weeks ago Nadir was talking to a woman at intake that had brought her daughter with her to pick up a hamper. Nadir asked the girl, “no school today?” The mother responded that she didn’t have a lunch to send with her daughter to school, so she kept her at home instead. Unfortunately, this is not an unusual statement for us to hear at intake.  Faced with the option of having her daughter go to school hungry—where her child might face social isolation from her peers, and her teacher might contact Family and Children’s Services—or not sending her at all, the mother had to make a choice. Like many Canadian families, this mother probably had to choose between sending her child to school with a nutritious and school appropriate lunch and being able to pay her rent for the month. For the child growing up in poverty, this decision will have a long term effect on their education, health, and probably their social well-being.

The extent of child poverty in Canada was outlined in a recent report by UNICEF (which can be found here), called “measuring child poverty:  new league tables of child poverty in the world’s richest countries.” The report ranked the wealthiest countries in the world according to how many children were in relative poverty. According to UNICEF, a child is living in relative poverty when they are living in a household where disposable income is less than 50% of the median disposable income for the country. By this criteria, 13.3% of Canadian children are living in relative poverty. What’s more, as this article explains, though the federal government once pledged to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000, now, 12 years after that milestone has passed, there is still no national definition of child poverty or concrete strategies at a national level to reduce it. Though it is hard to know for certain how many children are poor because there are competing definitions of poverty and different ways to measure it, we do know that of the approximately 851 000 Canadians who visited food banks in 2011, over one third of them were children (see this infographic for more information from food banks and yearly report cards on child poverty here from Campaign 2000).

(more…)

Hunger Awareness Day

May 31, 2010

Tomorrow, June 1st, is Hunger Awareness Day in Canada and  Food Banks Canada has put together a public service announcement that focuses in on the magnitude of hunger in this country and prompts you for some solutions.

More information can be found on the Hunger Awareness Day website. For some local context check out some of our posts on our programs experiences working with people who are food insecure.

Locally, the Cambridge Self Help Food Bank is doing a Brown Bag Lunch event, where they are asking all residents of Cambridge to Brown Bag it and to donate their lunch money for that day to the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank.  More info is available at this link.

For us, tomorrow it will be business as usual.  If you want to help out please check out the Get Involved page of this blog.

Food Banks Canada also has a video that highlights the related problem of child hunger and it really packs an emotional punch.  Especially, if you have kids of your own.

No one asks to be hungry, and if you’re a child can you even really understand why it’s happening to you?  I’m an adult and it still puzzles me why our society can’t organize itself in a way that ensures that virtually everyone has the basic necessities of life, especially food.

Realistically it is impossible that every single person will have enough food to eat.  There will always be a cheque that doesn’t come, or bills that pile up higher than you can manage before another job comes.  That’s why House of Friendship started the Emergency Food Hamper Program in 1958.  But is it right that in Canada every month more 800,00 people are without food?  That’s more people than live in the entire Region of Waterloo.  Is it ok if you are hungry, your neighours, your entire block, your entire city?  At what point do we change something?

So please, share the videos with your friends and family, and ask yourself:  how can we eliminate hunger in this country?