As Canadians gather to celebrate Thanksgiving, Bishop Colin Johnson of the diocese of Toronto is asking them to reflect on the 300,000 people in Ontario who must rely on food banks to survive.”..pause and imagine looking down at a half-empty plate of plain food, [at] a meal that will leave you hungry…,” Bishop Johnson writes in an advertisement that appeared in the Toronto Star on Oct. 8, a few days before Canada’s Thanksgiving holiday.The ad, written as an open letter, urges Anglicans to “continue to give more generously and do more for those who are poor in our communities.” It also urges the provincial government to add a $100 “Healthy food supplement” to the monthly incomes of people living on social assistance.Studies have shown that those who live below the poverty line have a poorer diet that people with a higher income. As a consequence, they tend to get sick much more often. “An extra $100 per month would enable them to afford nutritious food,” points out Bishop Johnson.
In an interview, Bishop Johnson said the hope is that the ad would move the government to enact changes that will really alleviate poverty, and make it recognize that “there are a considerable number of people who actually support programs like reaching out to the poor and the marginalized…”
The ad is also meant to show the public that “the church is active and involved in social issues and that it has a legitimate place in discussions..,” he said.
This is the second time the diocese has paid for this kind of anti-poverty advertising. The first ad appeared at the height of the global financial meltdown last November. Earlier, the McGuinty government had promised to take concrete steps to reduce poverty in Ontario. As the economic crisis deepened, however, its’ resolve appeared to waver. The diocese felt that it was crucial not only to remind the government of its’ promise but also to underscore that “the recession was going to create even more hardship,” said Stuart Mann, director of communications for the diocese of Toronto. “…It was a way of keeping the heat on the government,” he told the Anglican Journal.Bishop Johnson said progress on the war on poverty has been “incremental, and we want to make sure that it doesn’t slide back.” Public awareness about the critical role that churches have played is also important, he said. “We’re actually one of the major providers of support for people who are deeply marginalized – the poor, the lonely…It’s a natural component of our faith. But I think the proclamation has to be made public,” he said. “We need to say that not only is the church engaged in frontline work, it also advocates for changing the policies and systems that lead to poverty.”
The $33,000 ad was paid for by private donors. “There’s a cost to advocacy as well as a cost to provision of services,” said Bishop Johnson. “Those things need to go hand in hand.”It’s too early to gauge feedback from this latest ad, but the first one produced a “tremendous response,” said Mann, as Anglicans added their voices to the campaign to end poverty by sending a letter or an e-mail to Premier Dalton McGuinty and to Finance Minister Dwight Duncan.
Another ad is planned for December. The goal is “to remind people that Christmas is about Jesus Christ, not about Santa Claus,” said Mann, adding that it’s also to encourage Anglicans “to continue the good work on behalf of the poor.”