Engage Ottawa: The struggle against hunger

Food is a human right. - International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Meal planning and preparation can be an arduous task and for thousands in the Ottawa area an additional question is added to the equation: Do I have enough money to buy food?  More than 720 individuals and families turn to the Centretown Emergency Food Centre (CEFC) each month in means of answering this question.

Based out of the Centretown United Church and the Centretown Churches Social Action Committee, CEFC supplies emergency food baskets on the basis of providing three to four days worth of groceries.  Individuals and families are able to access this service once a month.  Service-users line up and out the door between the two-two and half hours four days a week.   Serving between 30-80 people a day, CEFC is a much needed service and has been since its inception in the early 1970s.

After speaking with the director, dedicated compassionate volunteers and students, I too put on my volunteer cap and got down to work.  Meeting with the individuals and families, the importance of food banks like CEFC is crucial.  Food banks may offer a “band-aid” solution to poverty but are an important source to addressing it.  I learned something I had never thought about before – how important these food banks are to helping one’s life.  Think about it.  Food is a staple to survival.  It is essential.  It is a human right. When an individual is on the brink of impoverishment, a food bank can be one of the first or last sources of assistance.  With this, volunteers sit down with individuals and families, checking off which foods are needed while identifying root causes that can further be addressed by referrals to organizations in close proximity.

In general, food banks have been in service for decades seeing a revolution in clients over time.  When CEFC first started in the early 1970s, majority of the clients were classified as the ‘working poor’.  In the ‘80s the centre saw a shift to the single, unemployed, due to a change in employment.  The 1980s also saw a switch in servicing more to the mental health population as it was no longer legal to institutionalize a mentally ill person.  In the past couple of decades there has been an increase in service to families and the working poor.

The next week I returned to the Centretown United Church to check out one of CEFC’s partners who also work at the surface of poverty: Centre 507.  Located above CEFC, Centre 507 utilizes its partnership and key location to provide programs and services varying from rooming house tenant support, life management skills to supportive listening and counselling offered by certified individuals.

Established in 1983, Centre 507 has created a safe, friendly and supportive environment.  Viewing their clients as worthy and capable individuals, Centre 507 acknowledges the whole integrity of a person.  Their services cater to a mosaic of individuals and families as well as their changing needs.

The Rooming House Tenant Support Services is part of the Centre’s programming that addresses the challenges faced in rooming houses, educating individuals of their tenant rights as well as assisting and advocating to avoid eviction.  Along with the various services available at Centre 507, the environment of the drop-in has developed a safe space for its clientele.  Its inviting presence boasts a sense of security and warmth to those who lack this in their lives.  It is a place of good energy.  Whether clients are in need of immediate resources, such as housing or whether they are looking to play a game of chess to cure their loneliness, Centre 507 has it.

A community lives here.

Working in perfect unison, CEFC and Centre 507 have for decades addressed the needs of those who are struggling to make ends meet.  It is here that I saw poverty in all shapes and sizes.  It came in singles; some employed others who must put their health before their job.  It came in doubles; young and old.  It came in threes, fours and fives; families who are living the detriments of the recession and the newly-immersed immigrant families yet to fully succeed in this country. 

These are the people Canada Without Poverty works for.  We work on behalf of all Canadians, encompassing every gender, age, race and size.   Capturing the needs of CEFC’s and Centre 507’s clientele, CWP advocates and offers solutions on the policy level that attempt to secure basic needs for individuals. The goal is to ensure everyone can live with dignity.  Together, CEFC, Centre 507 and CWP work to underline the shared struggles in this diverse country.