By Elaine Power, Globe and Mail July 25, 2011
(Elaine Power, an associate professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen’s University, has served on the board of the Partners in Mission Food Bank.)
It’s time to close our food banks. I’ve reached this conclusion after 18 years of researching food, hunger and poverty; volunteering at food banks; serving on a food bank board; and recently taking part in a challenge where I ate from a typical food bank hamper for three days.
The first problem is that food banks can never end hunger.
Most people who could officially be classified as “hungry” simply don’t use them. In the only national survey that bothered to ask (conducted by Human Resources Development Canada), one in four hungry Canadians used food banks. Many would rather go hungry than accept charity. Or they choose to leave the food for those who, they tell themselves, “really” need it.
Research shows that even those who use food banks go hungry. That’s because food banks can only supply what is donated. Given the overwhelming demand for their services and their limited supply, food banks must ration how much they provide to clients. Most restrict households to a once-a-month hamper.
I too have spent some time working in food banks, and after a morning of lifting and carrying boxes of foodstuffs, one returns to the solace of one's home feeling that one has helped other a little.
And, when I first read Ms Power's piece, I was a little off balance, given my social conscience and motivation to solve such a glaring and insidious problem as hunger in our own communities.
However, we are learning many different things about select charities, and Power's point that foodbanks given "cover" to politicians who have a resource to which they can point to say 'something is already being done about that'.
Charity from the donor, can also be a source of denial for the people with authority and responsibility to change the situation.
There are now African writers and thinkers who say similar things about 'foreign aid'....that it should be discontinued in order for the recipient countries not to become dependent, and thereby less likely to take full responsibility for their own growth and development as healthy vibrant societies. (The current disaster in Somalia where millions face starvation, disease and death as a result of multiple factors like drought, homelessness, failed states, and even political interference with the aid that has been sent to the victims of the famine would have to be considered an exception to the position of these writers.)
In Canada and the so-called 'developed world' there have been many futile attempts by various political leaders to eliminate poverty, hunger, homelessness and the accompanying spin-offs of poor health, school failure and drop-out statistics, social assistance costs, and even law enforcement. However, taken overall, most of these initiatives have become a patchwork quilt of intersecting regulations, power plays between various agencies and generally a lack of co-ordination and consequently a failure to change the lives of at least 10% of our society in any meaningful way. There is an army of workers 'beavering' in their own silo's all of them with a client list that bulges past reasonable and manageable. And politicians will point to the plethora of programs to "help" those in need.
But there is not a nationally co-ordinated and nationally committed goal to eliminate poverty, hunger, homelessness and all of the accompanying costs that flow from this gaping hole in our social policy and political will. (Attacking the need for more prisons is precisely the wrong end of the problem to address.)
Nevertheless, with the band of right-wing politicians like the recently elected Mayor of Toronto who wants to close the libraries 'because no one is using them' when the numbers prove exactly the opposite, is like Harper spending billions on new prisons when all the real data demonstrates a significant decline in criminal activity of both the petty and the serious variety. And in this climate, there is little or no appetite for even a full discussion of Ms Power's worthy and somewhat provocative recommendation that we close the food banks...And until some movement in social consciousness and political will occur, we will continue to put this band-aid on the cancer that should be an embarrassment for everyone.