In response to a commentary published in the Globe and Mail on July 25th about closing Canada’s food banks, Daily Bread’s executive director and chair of the Board of Directors sent the following reply to the paper. Today, a portion of that letter was published in the Letters to the Editor. You can find the full text of our response below and the original commentary by Elaine Power here: ‘It’s time to close Canada’s food banks’.
Elaine Power has far more in common with food banks that she probably realizes. We’re actually fighting the same fight, looking for solutions to the same problems and educating people about the complex issues around poverty in Canada. Yet the idea that a non-profit by its very existence must be covering up the problem that it seeks to solve is ridiculous. It would be similar to saying that Evergreen Youth Centre hides homelessness or Casey House is hiding HIV. In any event, it is hardly a battle one would want to have on the backs of those who are living in poverty and going hungry. As much as we continue to push for solutions to poverty, we don’t have the luxury that Power has in saying we shouldn’t exist. Even close to three years after the recession, we still have over a million visits to food banks across the GTA. They cannot be fed by ideology and hyperbole.
Food banks aren’t hiding the poor from any one. We’re not here to make people feel warm and fuzzy about giving – to say something so glib shows a lack of respect for the intelligence and compassion of thousands of people who volunteer at food banks and community agencies across Canada. Yes, studies show doing good makes you feel good – but the volunteer program at Daily Bread is also an educational one. We’re here to show you not just that there is a problem, but that it is far more complex than just hunger because we see firsthand the extent of it.
Daily Bread’s mission has always been two-fold: we’re here to fight hunger by providing emergency food assistance when needed and we’re also here to fight hunger by educating people about the issues and advocating for solutions. Ontario has made some steps in the right direction towards alleviating child poverty through the Ontario Child Benefit — Daily Bread Food Bank was instrumental in making that a reality.
Food banks are often more than just providers of food. For many, providing emergency food services is a small part of a larger reality that if you are coming to a food bank for food there are other issues at hand such as housing, employment, domestic abuse or health issues. Daily Bread has an entire department dedicated to advocacy services. Many food banks do. To simplify and stereotype food banks as simply procurers and distributors of donations shows how very little Elaine Power actually knows about food banks, though she professes to have intimate knowledge of them. Her comments are also at odds with a 2005 position paper on food insecurity in Canada that she authored for Dietitians of Canada where she referenced another’s work by saying that: “…Canadian food banks, particularly Daily Bread in Toronto and the national association, CAFB [now Food Banks Canada], have remained politicized; they are tireless advocates for eliminating hunger through improved social security programs.”
Daily Bread provides food to The Stop Community Food Centre’s food bank and meal programs, but many of our other member agencies across Toronto, as well as Daily Bread, also run innovative programs supporting and empowering people on low incomes and work to keep the conversation about poverty at the forefront of people’s minds. Food banks, community food centres, meal programs, drop-in programs and community agencies are doing more than just providing food.
That’s because we know simply providing food will never solve hunger. We also know that food banks cannot solve hunger — alone. Power’s rant discounts the incredible amount of work agencies on the ground are doing to provide support and find solutions. To Elaine Power we’d like to remind her that her fight is our fight; not to end support for people who are struggling, but to empower, educate and defeat hunger at its root causes. If academics, policy makers and anti-poverty advocates can’t work together for a common purpose, how can we ever expect anyone to listen to any of us, let alone act on what we have to say?
Eric Meerkamper, Chair, Board of Directors, Daily Bread Food Bank
Gail Nyberg, Executive Director, Daily Bread Food Bank