Food banks present Christians with a dilemma. Our biblical imperative is to feed the hungry, yet food banks in Canada, set up on a large scale 30 years ago, have become institutionalized. Tragically, many low-income Canadians, including young children, still go hungry.
The question of food banks and their future was one of several issues tackled by a group of 75 Anglicans of all ages, and from different backgrounds and dioceses, at the Shalom Justice Camp hosted by the diocese of Toronto in Peterborough, Ont., from Aug. 19 to 24.
In addition to food security, delegates examined water, immigration and refugees, aboriginal concerns, sustainable agriculture, housing, violence, healthy communities and political advocacy. Disabled people were also in attendance, as well as a family with two young children.
Algoma, although one of the smaller dioceses represented, sent a robust group of nine campers. Said Beth Hewson of North Bay, Ont.: “We want to build a social justice network…Coming to this lights a fire so that we can live out our faith, as Jesus did.”
And light a fire it did. Time was not spent indoors listening to speakers and debating issues. Instead, the camp quickly plunged delegates into a three-day immersion program in the surrounding community.
During a day with the poverty and food issues group, I helped sort and pack food at Kawartha Food Share in Peterborough, then visited Alexander Street Community Housing, where the Rev. Maisie Watson, a deacon and social housing worker, had organized a barbecue with residents to coincide with monthly food distribution. We joined in a roundtable discussion at a local Anglican church with local MPP Jeff Lea and shared our observations about poverty and income inequality. And we met with Elaine Power, a professor of kinesiology and health studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.
Power says food banks aren’t solving the hunger problem. Food banks were created to fill a temporary need during the recession in the 1980s. Now a permanent part of the food system, they provide Canadians with the “comforting illusion” that the problem of hunger is being addressed. “Of those who are hungry, 75 per cent never get to the food bank,” said Powers.
MaryAnn Huggett, from St. James in Stratford, Ont. works at a food bank and said that while food banks soften the blow for some, the real challenge is food security for all.
The Rev. Bob Bettson is former editor of two diocesan newspapers: The Sower in the diocese of Calgary and The Mustard Seed in the diocese of Brandon. He lives in Toronto.