Photo by Michael Swan

Vincentians raising profile in battle against poverty

By 
  • November 12, 2018

When Pope Francis initiated the World Day of the Poor to be marked on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time — Nov. 18 this year — it was easy for people to see this targeted at the familiar pictures that are all too real of Third World poverty.

The reality, however, is that “there’s a lot of people who are poor everywhere,” said Richard Pommainville.

“A lot of people think of the poor, it’s Haiti, it’s South America, it’s Africa. No, it’s around us,” said Pommainville, executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s national council.

The statistics are clear on that. The federal government’s “Towards a Poverty Reduction Strategy Discussion Paper” notes that 1.9 million Canadian families struggle to make ends meet. And it goes beyond just having a low income. It’s food insecurity, social exclusion, inadequate housing, a lack of access to transportation and services and more. Vincentian volunteers assisted 350,000 people nationwide last year, about one per cent of the Canadian population.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is using the World Day of the Poor to launch its new campaign to raise funds and collect non-perishable food items in parishes across the country, as they have always done, but also to raise awareness of the Society and its efforts to stem the effects of poverty in Canada. It’s unique in that way as the Society has never run a national campaign with such a focused topic, said Pommainville, while at the same time getting the goods to fill the Christmas hampers for families in need, which they have been doing for more than 170 years.

The Society, it might seem, would be fairly visible out in the community. Volunteers last year donated more than 1.6 million hours of time in making 250,000 home visits, which is the anchor point of its mission. It’s not the case though, as “Vincentians are humble in nature so they don’t want to project all the work they do,” said Pommainville. 

The national council has developed a campaign guide to help its volunteers increase awareness in parishes and beyond. An advertising campaign has been launched and an advertisement will run on the Daily TV Mass broadcast on Nov. 18, a Mass the Society is also sponsoring. Posters have been created for the Society’s stores across Canada and parish bulletins will carry campaign ads. The campaign will also give guidance on what local councils can do within their own parishes.

Pommainville said we have to start looking for the root causes of poverty. As he heard at a conference earlier this year, “We’re putting plaster on the problem.” 

He’s encouraged that the federal government has announced its poverty-reduction strategy, but he is concerned that it doesn’t begin until 2020. With a federal election next year, there is a danger of a change in government that could put the strategy in jeopardy.

Pommainville has been in talks with Canada’s bishops and is pleased that they have thrown their support behind the campaign.   

“We’ve got to continue raising the visibility because otherwise the middle class is going to be pulled down further,” said Pommainville.

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