21 August 2014

Why is Purolator tackling hunger?

I confess that one of my minor pleasures is watching CFL games on TSN. Among the endless game interruptions is an ad/public service announcement in which genial Chris Schultz, member of the TSN football panel, hosts a presentation about the Purolator Tackle Hunger program. According to its website Purolator, the parcel delivery company, uses the Tackle Hunger program to work "closely with its teammates, customers and food banks across Canada to collect donations and help raise awareness about the issue of hunger in Canada."

I cringe every time the bit comes on. Not to disparage Purolator's charity, but in one of the richest countries of the world, why on earth are we depending on a corporation to feed our people? For that matter, why are we relying on food banks? This is something for us to be deeply embarrassed about, if not ashamed.

It's not as if food banks generally and Purolator specifically are tackling hunger successfully. Food bank use rose steadily after 2008, hitting a high of 872,379 people per month in 2012. Over a third of those helped are children. One wonders how often these thousands of kids go to school hungry. And food banks aren't the half of it: a survey by Human Resources Development Canada indicated that only a quarter of Canadians who go hungry use food banks, and many of those who do still go hungry at times.

The reason we have food banks is, of course, low incomes: low pay (12 per cent of households helped are employed) and inadequate social welfare. Food Banks Canada (yes, there is actually a national organization) makes a number of recommendations, including long-term federal funding of affordable housing, increased social investment in areas with high levels of food insecurity, increased support for programs that help vulnerable Canadians get training for better-paying jobs, revolutionizing social assistance so people can build self-sufficiency rather than being trapped in poverty, and helping people in low-paying, part-time, and temporary jobs get better-paid, long-term employment.

All good ideas and all will take money, but fortunately there's lots of that around. Our governments have no excuse for not ensuring all Canadians have a standard of living adequate for a healthy lifestyle. According to Statistics Canada, private non-financial corporations in this country are currently sitting on a cash hoard of $630-billion. It's time we instructed the tax man to dip into those billions companies aren't investing so we can invest them in decent incomes for the poor, allowing them to buy food with dignity. Then, instead of branding hunger, Purolator can stick to delivering parcels.

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