Michael Swan

Even small acts can help fight food insecurity

  • October 4, 2023

Leaders from the Yonge Street Mission (YSM) declared to over 200 Catholic Women’s League (CWL) members living in the Greater Toronto Area that they can all make a difference in the fight against hunger.

Data and anecdotes about the current food security problems, details about the Christian development agency’s work and tips on how the CWL can combat this pressing social issue were relayed during a recent webinar. 

Angie Peters, the president and CEO of YSM, spoke about how the Canadian news has been besieged with negative stories about the state of food security across the country. According to the first-ever Poverty Report Cards released by Poverty Canada on Sept. 26, 18.4 per cent of Canadians — nearly seven million people — are struggling to put food on the table. The rate is even worse in Ontario at 19.2 per cent, which extrapolates to 2.75 million individuals currently deprived of sustenance.

“Every day you are deciding between what meal you are going to pay for, if you’re going to eat, what you will give up so your children can eat, or if they need something for school, what are you going to give up so they can get that thing for school because you don’t want them to fall behind,” said Peters. “It is just this crazy, unhealthy shell game where there is no way to win because there is never going to be enough. That is a sense of hopelessness that not only leads to illness that comes from lack of food, but also mental illness as well.”

YSM provides meals and groceries for adults, street-involved youth and families. The organization also provides access to mental health experts, employment services and housing. The mantra for the non-profit founded in 1896 is helping thousands of Torontonians “move from surviving to thriving.”

Most CWL chapters are not equipped to combat food insecurity on a large scale, but that is not necessary. YSM’s senior director of programs Sandra Seaborn said small acts can lead to impactful results.

At an individual level, Seaborn said you can decide to give to a food-related charity or volunteering for a food bank, making meals for a drop-in shelter, being a driver for a Meals on Wheels program.

“Something more radical to consider, because we heard from Angie about how housing costs are connected to the income capacity to buy food, you might even consider opening your home for such as a newcomer refugee or asylum seeker,” said Seaborn.

As for what a CWL branch can accomplish, Seaborn recommended the organization host seasonal meals, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas feasts, for the vulnerable in their community.

“One of our national food banks said 18 per cent of Canadians are thinking right now about what food they shouldn’t put at the table because of the cost of inflation, so if you have the capacity to host a Thanksgiving meal and make it festive for everyone, there is a gift to your community.”

A few of the ladies did state their intention to donate leftover food from their Thanksgiving meal to a local shelter or to a homeless person they encounter on the street.

During the breakout session portion of the webinar, The Catholic Register observed 15 of the CWL participants brainstorm ideas about how they can make a difference. Most said they were highly active in supporting the cafeteria at their local Catholic school before the COVID-19 pandemic. Though Ontario, and the rest of Canada, have essentially been free of restrictions for over 18 months, community participation in these programs has largely failed to rebound. Multiple attendees pledged to renew providing donations and their time.

Given that governmental advocacy is weaved into the historical fabric of the CWL, Seaborn recommended that the women could send letters to lawmakers about tackling food insecurity.

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