This piece was originally published in The Toronto Star. To read the full piece, click here.
Canadians have a long history of volunteering and giving back to the community — it’s woven into our cultural fabric.
At The Stop Community Food Centre in Toronto, we operate multiple programs with 200 plus volunteers donating their most valuable resource — their time. As a non-profit, we rely on the goodness of citizens to help us deliver more than 80,000 meals and over 10,000 food hampers per year to the community.
In 2022, our volunteers have donated and worked 16,000 hours, which, if paid the living wage in Toronto ($23.15/hour), would cost The Stop more than $370,000 in payroll and benefits.
It makes me wonder if the Canadian government is taking advantage of this “desire to give back.” Instead of providing sufficient social supports to non-profits, it has passed the buck to charities and volunteers to feed their communities and patch up a crumbling social safety net.
When I started volunteering at The Stop in January 2021, I was recently unemployed and looking to give back to my community, help people and gain skills. The Stop’s mission to “increase access to healthy food in a manner that maintains dignity, builds health and community, and challenges inequality” resonated with me.
Initially, I thought I would be helping the most marginalized in our city — unemployed, under housed people, and perhaps those experiencing severe health issues, or problems with addiction.
In reality, I am serving working-class folks who are struggling to make ends meet.
In 2021, more than 5.8 million Canadians, including 1.4 million children, lived in food-insecure households.
Food banks were originally set up as temporary solutions. Now they are a permanent fixture on the Canadian social assistance landscape.
Since the pandemic started in 2020, food bank usage has increased year over year.
The Stop has seen growing numbers of employed people accessing our services and food bank.
Inflation, inadequate social assistance payments and rising food costs (almost weekly it seems), are eroding the Canadian social-safety net. People on social assistance are losing the battle to maintain a dignified life.
This in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
There are solutions including increasing government supports to non-profits, implementing a living wage for all Canadians, increasing social assistance rates to be in line with the cost of living, and ensuring affordable housing and stable rent.
A universal basic income would allow everyone to live with dignity and afford food, a basic human right.
Political will is not keeping pace with reality. When will our governments take responsibility for providing adequate, livable social assistance in Canada and implement change?
Written by our Senior Coordinator-Volunteer Program, Helena Pamic.
The support of our donors is exclusively what keeps our programs running. Help us to provide our neighbours with healthy food and to run our vital community-building programs throughout the year: