T’is the Season of Moral Distress
By Karen Secord
It’s that time of year again; the couple of months before Christmas when people are inspired by the circumstances of others to pick a charity and give back in the spirit of the holidays.
Year after year the cycle repeats itself.
Sadly, there is a moral distress I feel at this time of year. It explodes in the tension between our commitment to influence the creation of a more equitable system – a year long struggle – and the condensed six to eight weeks at the end of every year when many people look up from their busy lives and feel an obligation to help another human or offer support for an organization doing that work.
The phone rings off the hook as people dream of donning reindeer ears and baking cookies in our kitchen or bringing in their whole office team to stock shelves. Shopping bags of random food items show up unsolicited from well-meaning groups who likely have not familiarized themselves with our community kitchen model. When half the products have outdated best-before dates we are stuck with the cost of commercial garbage disposal. And the media is like an echo chamber, a predictable narrator of stories of the good giver and the poor receiver.
In our world we are all equal and included.
The majority of the revenue the Parkdale Food Centre (PFC) needs to sustain itself arrives courtesy of foundations, grants and individual donors. Since we are not committing to a short-term one-dimensional solution to hunger, or simply offering a bag of random food items to fill a hungry belly today, our vision and therefore our programming is more holistic. We test solutions, engage a variety of participants, create, innovate and advocate for systemic change. We understand the value of cross-sectoral partnerships.
We are currently experiencing a humanitarian crisis that is inexcusable. There are more people who are homeless, going hungry, and searching for hopefulness hungry than we have ever before seen. To be clear, these problems won’t ever be solved by buying a bag full of packaged food at the Superstore or responding to the cashier’s request at Walmart to donate to their “Fight Hunger and Spark Change” campaign. A livable minimum wage, a revamped tax system for the ultra rich, and a guaranteed basic income would lift Canadians out of the devastating poverty that current governments have enacted.
Instead of respecting the basic human rights of all Canadians to food and housing, governments have legislated poverty by keeping social assistance and disability rates well below the poverty line. (Over 70% of PFC Neighbours have an income of less than $20,000 annually). Their strategy is an expensive choice, one that they have got away with by creating a façade that charities are picking up the slack. When social service workers direct Neighbours to their nearest food bank because the income they are offered is not enough to pay for both housing and food, it is obvious there is a problem.
Food insecurity has become a bit of a seasonal game. Filling busses with cans or creating pyramids in school hallways are feel-good stunts that, at best miss the point; at worst, they reinforce the deeply concerning fact that a growing segment of the Canadian population is not just living in poverty, they are cemented there and others are joining them in this pit of despair at record speed.
This year we are sharing honestly and pleading with you to support our forward-thinking work here and to check out our programming updates today and often.
Maybe you would like to add your voice to an upcoming Community Check-in conversation. Book one of our new Solutionary Cooking Workshops (details in the new year) for your family and friends.
Join me for lunch any Tuesday or Thursday. I’d love to introduce you to some of your Neighbours.
Together we can create an Ottawa where everyone has the means and opportunity to thrive!
Stay kind and be caring,