Welfare Food Challenge - What can you do?

Published on October 31st, 2016

My intent was to post one last blog on the actual last day of the event.  However, I didn't 'make it'.  On Thursday evening with two days to go, reality set in big time.  For the sake of maintaining readers, let's just say I took an Advil and ate a box of Chocolate Mint Girl Scout Cookies.  I sat in the kitchen imposing terrible guilt on myself.  I knew that millions of people can't just throw in the towel and wake up from a dream.  It is their way of life; not by choice, but by unfortunate beginnings then lack of opportunities.  Then I quit feeling bad and decided to do something; whatever it looked like would build onto the efforts of many others.

The Welfare Food Challenge experience taught me that poverty reduction is absolutely, terrifyingly, overwhelming because there is no silver bullet.  I learned there is a reason one gets to a point where it is self-preserving to change the subject; because it will paralyze both the person living it and the person sincerely trying to reduce it.  Here is some very good news: how about a buckshot instead? If each person takes some sort of action we all can lift people out of poverty.  It takes federal, provincial, and municipal government.  It takes business leaders, disruptors, and employers.  It takes education and social assistance (mental, health, and living expenses).  It takes each individual to advocate on behalf of another who cannot or is too busy surviving to be heard.  It takes short term alleviation (food banks, shelters), but also long term reduction strategies (legislation and collective community action).

So for those of you I spoke to throughout the week: those who engaged and became frustrated and overwhelmed; those who didn't engage due to their interpretation of the 'poor always being among us' as a sincere reason for not acting for long term reduction; those who wish to do something, but what can I do? Here is what I suggest: rather than focusing on the massive scale of poverty reduction, get involved in dialogue within your own community; the path is as important as the destination: we cannot forget that or cherry pick or else the sincerity of the statement is called into question; the following is a list of ways to help - and as a village we will lift others up.

How To Help Support Poverty Reduction:

  • Support government alleviation intervention so individuals have immediate needs met in order to focus on helping themselves.  For example:
    • increase the income assistance to the Market Basket Measure which is about $1500 a month for a single person on basic welfare.  Compare that to the long standing monthly allowance of $610 per month.  Be honest with yourself, could YOU live on $610 a month?  How about $18 a week for groceries? Unless you LOVE ramen for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.....
    • remove the arbitrary barriers to receiving welfare (see my earlier Blog)
    • raise earnings exemptions
    • increase quality childcare funding
  • Encourage employers in your community to pay a living wage, which is an hourly amount based on the cost of living in your community. Then sit back and watch them reap the rewards of increased productivity and a healthier HR expense side of the Balance Sheet, as well as all of those employees reinvesting those funds back into their local community rather than dividends heading out of town/province/country.
  • Consider supporting more social housing to be built in your community.  Check out New Westminster whose homeless on the streets have dramatically decreased in recent years due to one act: housing them.  Consider the impact: now each of them have an address when pursuing employment, local businesses attract more customers, and each of them become a part of the solution rather than the problem.
  • When you write a cheque, consider carefully how you wish it to be spent.  Don't be afraid to ask questions and expect answers.
  • Volunteer. The benefits to yourself and others will shock and awe you.  And every task contributes. Every single one.

A friend recently shared with me that she couldn't wrap her head around how 1 in 5 BC children live in poverty.  How could that be with so much wealth?  How could that be indeed.  Her takeaway from that conversation: she came up with an idea to advocate for and financially support local youth.  It wasn't an original idea or an act that would forever alter the course of children in Abbotsford living in poverty.  However, she is taking an action. Period. The seeds she will plant will provide immediate opportunities for youth that wouldn't have had them otherwise.  So she proves the point.  

I humbly suggest we stop all of the discussion; we know poverty is all around us. Welfare is designed to serve immediate needs, regardless of one's philosophical beliefs on government intervention. Until those who don't need it can truly walk in the shoes of those who do, set aside judgment and instead get informed and take action, our village will suffer.