Hungry in Hamilton

6 09 2010

The start of school for another year will be bittersweet for some families. The excitement of returning to the classroom can be exhilarating for kids…seeing friends again, new learning adventures. But, for those who don’t always have enough to eat it’s a compromised milestone. In Hamilton, where community leaders are working to make this “the best place to raise a child”, attention is being paid to children’s nutritional requirements and the impact of hunger in the classroom. This is a community challenge, not simply one for parents or educators.

According to Hamilton Food Share, nearly 20,000 people turn to local food banks each month. That’s nearly four times the number using food banks in 2001. Children under age 18 make up 42% of these food bank users but account for only 26% of our population. The disproportionate reliance on food banks by children is just part of this signficant community problem.

Comment heard the other day: “Parents are the ones responsible for feeding their kids. Just how much of that free food goes to those who really don’t need it? There’s so much abuse in the system. I don’t support it.”

Sorry to say this is not a rare opinion despite being misinformed. Yes, parents are responsible for feeding their children and many make extreme sacrifices trying to do just that. As for the notion of abuse in the system, I have come to think this is simply a ready excuse for not knowing any better. Lining up at a food bank, going through the screening process, and leaving with what little happens to be available (whether it’s food you like or not) isn’t something done on a whim. And there’s nothing “free” about the food distributed by local food banks. The costs can be measured in homes, neighbourhoods, communities and society overall – not to mention in humility, dignity, spirit and independence. I count my blessings each time I donate to the food banks. The last economic crunch tipped the balance for many who now need help at the end of the month. Some lost jobs, some have more than one but still can’t make ends meet. 

Thirty Percent (30%) of food bank recipients report frequent problems eating balanced meals and providing balanced meals for their children.  Hamilton Food Share’s HungerCount 2009 reported more than 8,300 children access food banks every month. According to Dietitians of Canada, “mothers sacrifice their own food to protect their children from hunger.” Despite access to a food bank, many parents struggle. One in five children do not eat a balanced meal most days of the week and almost 20% of children using a food bank do not eat breakfast every day. There is no lack of evidence about children and hunger. Kids need to be ready to learn. We know that hungry children in food insecure households frequently experience a lack of focus in school and in the long term can experience learning impairments.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation indicates affordable housing should account for no more than 30% of total household income. For single parents on Ontario Works (OW) rent will account for 49%-77% of  total household income; for single people on OW, 67%-100% of their income goes to rent. Doesn’t leave much for anything else, including food.

What can we do to change this? If you agree that social assistance rates are insufficient you can contact your elected representatives and add your voice to those who advocate for change. Do what you can to support those in need in this community – donate, volunteer, share food, support school-based nutrition initiatives, and educate others about this community issue. Below are some good starting points.

Hamilton Food Share web site: www.hamiltonfoodshare.org.

Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction: www.hamiltonpoverty.ca.

Hamilton Community Foundation: www.hcf.on.ca.

Check out the 6th Annual Empty Bowls event hosted by the Potters’ Guild of Hamilton & Region during their Fall Sale 2010, November 5-7. www.hamiltonpotters.ca.  This event raises funds for Hamilton Food Share (more than $20,000 last year) – $20 lets you take home one of the many handmade soup bowls on sale and helps support this great initiative. I have several in my collection and use them all the time – they are meant to remind us that there are always empty bowls out there unless we do something to change that.

2  The Fall Sale 2009 raised $20,420 for Hamilton Food Share Empty Bowls

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