May 7, 2012
New 'union' of food bank volunteers calls for urgent action on poverty so Ontario's food banks can close and volunteers can retire
Premier Dalton McGuinty's provincial budget, even as recently amended, does not do enough to reduce poverty in the view of volunteers at Ontario's food banks and emergency meal programs. They are therefore creating a new voice in the public debate about Ontario poverty: Freedom 90, a 'union' of volunteers.
Leaders of the Freedom 90 'union' include many people in their 70s and 80s who have been volunteering for twenty years. They want Premier McGuinty to take urgent action on poverty — so that food banks can close and they can 'retire' within their lifetimes.
Instead, Premier McGuinty is increasing social assistance rates that are already inadequate by just one percent — only a third as much as inflation — which will force Ontarians with low incomes to continue to rely on food banks and meal programs in their communities.
In a province as wealthy as Ontario, Freedom 90 believes, the government has a responsibility to ensure that people with low incomes can buy food after they pay their rent.
"I volunteer at a lunch program serving people who do not have enough money to buy food," says Teresa Porter, a volunteer at LAMP's community lunch in Newmarket. "It's time for the government to live up to its responsibility, and stop relying on volunteers to shoulder the burden that should be covered by our tax-funded social services."
Freedom 90 believes food banks and emergency meal programs do not, and never will, meet the basic needs of people with low incomes. Food banks were created three decades ago as an emergency response to a severe economic recession. Thirty years later, having inadequate resources to pay the rent and buy food is no longer an emergency but a permanent social condition for people in Ontario with low incomes.
Alf Judd, director of operations at the Georgina Community Food Pantry in Sutton, says, "I began volunteering with the food bank in 1990 thinking I would do this for a couple of years. I am still here 22 years later."
Freedom 90 volunteers have recorded '50 Ways to Close the Food Banks' (with apologies to Paul Simon) as their campaign song. It emphasizes that government action — not charitable food and meal programs — is required to end poverty.