Food programs show troubling poverty trend

Much like food banks, the need for school breakfast programs in the Cowichan Valley is troubling.

These programs, again like food banks, have become indispensable at many schools in Cowichan. They help to level the playing field at least a little for the kids whose parents can’t afford to feed them their first meal of the day at home.

School breakfast programs have expanded since their beginnings to serve more than just low-income children, of course, but there is no denying the drive behind their start-up.

They’re vital because we know unequivocally that children who are going hungry are not able to learn as well as kids who’ve had a nutritious breakfast.

Sadly, some of these same kids will also not go home to a supper to fill their bellies.

This is the reality of child poverty, right here in our communities.

The child poverty report card for 2014 released in November by First Call B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition had B.C. move up in the rankings of how many children are living in poverty among Canadian

provinces and territories. But those numbers were skewed last year by the federal Conservative government’s cancelling of the long-form census, whose data the Coalition has normally used to calculate their findings.

B.C. was the worst province in the country just one year earlier.

One in five children in the province are living below the poverty line.

Food Banks Canada has calculated that more than one-third of food bank users country-wide are children. The total number of food bank users in Canada according to HungerCount 2014

was almost 900,000.

Food banks were conceived as a temporary measure, with the first one opening in 1981. That is within the lifetimes of many of us. They have all-too-quickly moved from temporary measure to badly-needed institution in just about every community of any size in this country.

While it’s great that we have people in our communities who are so generous with their time, money, and expertise, and who care enough to make sure that none of our kids are going to class hungry in the morning, it is an indictment of us as a

society that these programs are so desperately needed; a need that is proliferating instead of decreasing.

While the work food banks and breakfast programs are doing is exceptional, we must dig deeper than putting aside a few tins for donation. We must dig into the root causes of the poverty that necessitates their existence, and do something about that.

A man who was one of the founders of a food bank in Nova Scotia once said he hoped every year that they’d be able to shut their doors. Now that’s a hope worth pursuing.