Toronto, Ont. – Just hours before a report released yesterday showed food bank usage climbing to an all-time high across Canada, one hundred and fifty people attended a rally to Put Food in the Budget at the Wychwood Barns at 601 Christie St. in Toronto. Monday night’s crowd heard from some of the community leaders that completed the “Do the Math Challenge” and lived for a week on a diet similar to that of many people in Ontario receiving social assistance.
Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario told the capacity crowd that taking the challenge had “strengthened our union’s solidarity,” with every Ontarian who lives with an inadequate diet. “The truth is there are low waged, part time or temporary workers, some of them union members, who also have to rely on food banks. When we build solidarity in our communities between those on social assistance, workers, church groups, and people concerned for fairness and social justice, politicians can no longer ignore poverty in our province.” Anglican Archbishop Colin Johnson said “This campaign has underscored for me the urgency of tackling the root causes of poverty. Many other Anglicans feel the same as me. Following their poverty diet, they are organizing meetings with their MPP, writing to their MPP, expressing their concern about the tragedy of widespread poverty and calling for action, starting with the $100 per month increase in social assistance.”
One thousand people around Ontario have taken the Do the Math Challenge in eighteen communities around Ontario. They tell us that on average they speak with one hundred people during the week. That means one hundred thousand people have had a conversation in the last two months about the inadequacy of social assistance. “We thought this would be a one week campaign in the first week of October” said provincial co-ordinator Mike Balkwill. “But it has a momentum of its own. Every week a new group calls me to become involved.”
Tracy Mead, a member of the Put Food in the Budget leadership team, whose income is social assistance, said “Ask yourself if you could survive on $585.00 a month, take the Do the Math Challenge, then try to look me in the eye and honestly say everything is OK. Winning this campaign means that we can all hold our heads high. I’m proud to be a part of this fight and I demand change”.
Diana Stapleton, chair of the Weston Area Emergency Food Bank invited the crowd to join her in making raising social assistance rates a voting issue. “This is a voting matter to me. I will walk away from supporting the Liberal party if this government does not take the initiative to increase social assistance and disability benefits.” Avvy Go of the Colour of Poverty asked what we have to do to convince politicians to deal with the situation of chronic hunger in Ontario. “The right to eat – access to enough healthy food – is as essential as the right to breathe – what do we have to do to convince them… have a ‘hold our breath campaign’?”
The Put Food in the Budget has been working with groups across Ontario to raise awareness of the inadequacy of social assistance benefits and the health impact facing people who cannot access nutritious food due to poverty. The province-wide network continues to ask the Ontario government to immediately increase social assistance by $100 a month for every adult in Ontario receiving social assistance as a first step towards inadequacy of social assistance rates. A single person in Ontario still receives only $585 per month for rent, food and everything else.
The rally encouraged ongoing mobilization across the province in the months ahead to keep the issue of poverty on the political agenda and to put food in the budget.
For More information visit www.putfoodinthebudget.ca
Mike Balkwill, Co-ordinator, Put Food in the Budget Campaign,
About the Put Food in the Budget Campaign
Thirty communities across Ontario – from Windsor to Cornwall and from Toronto to Thunder Bay are part of the Put Food in the Budget campaign. The campaign is sponsored by the Social Planning Network of Ontario and The Stop Community Food Centre and is supported by ACTRA Toronto; Anglican Diocese of Toronto; Association of Ontario Health Centres; Colour of Poverty; CUPE Ontario; OPSEU; Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario; and the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario.
About The Do The Math Challenge
Do the Math is an interactive website (dothemath.thestop.org) launched by The Stop Community Food Centre to draw attention to the impossible budgeting choices faced by social assistance recipients in Ontario. The recent “Do the Math Challenge” - part of the campaign to Put Food in the Budget - asks everyday Ontarians to try to survive on a food bank hamper to draw attention to the chronic food insecurity faced by social assistance recipients in our province.