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Feed the children

Feeling the ship turn

By Carolyn Pogue

It’s never easy to turn a ship around. But, after this past weekend, I think we will do just that. That's because the 1989 parliamentary promise to end Canadian child poverty will be fulfilled. Finally. The Child Wellbeing Initiative (CWBI) hosted a conference to tackle the issue of hungry Alberta school children, just one aspect of child poverty. Also, the national United Church launched a new resource, Bread Not Stones: Taking Action to End Child Poverty.

Seven years ago, United Church women — working on the front lines of charity — were outraged when they learned that teachers were taking food from home for students, that an increasing number of children ate Food Bank meals and that homeless children slept in church basements at Inns from the Cold. Alberta and much of Canada was and remains wealthy. Why was the poverty rate so high? Why were children so malnourished or hungry? Obviously, charity was not enough.

Since then, awareness about the problem has been raised while this mantra has been repeated: we need more affordable housing, more safe, affordable day care spaces, a higher minimum wage, breakfast and lunch programs in schools and a poverty reduction strategy. Petitions, demonstrations, meetings with and letters to members of the Alberta Legislature, speaking engagements, rag dolls, paper dolls and lunch bag campaigns all lie in this ship’s wake.

The CWBI conference was called Feed the Children: Ending Student Hunger in Alberta Classrooms. It was the brainchild of Lillian Stewart, co-chair of the CWBI. Eighty of us converged at Gaetz United Church in Red Deer, Alta. — some driving for hours to get there. Nevertheless, it brought together dozens of organizations from across the province — those who are concerned about kids, social workers, teachers, Meals on Wheels, Brown Bagging 4 Calgary Kids, public health nurses, MLAs, Breakfast for Learning representatives, Food Banks and more.

A basket of homemade pins helps to raise funds for anti-poverty initiatives. Photo by Carolyn Pogue
A basket of homemade pins helps to raise funds for anti-poverty initiatives. Photo by Carolyn Pogue
It was disheartening to learn how widespread fear is among people who work with kids — fear of rocking the boat, speaking out and being seen as “political.” Where has democratic free speech gone? This makes it imperative that retirees speak out. After all, we have the power, time and common sense needed to tackle this horrendous problem. We often offer support to young people who are raising and working with kids.

It was exciting to hear passion, commitment and creativity about ending student hunger. It was wonderful to be asked repeatedly to keep people connected. Because several participants mentioned that they worked in isolation with far too gatherings, this networking was greatly appreciated.

Our goal for the conference was simply to listen, learn, reflect and formulate a group statement to Alberta about ending hunger in our classrooms. It will provide an anchor for the next steps. Bev Green, national president of United Church Women, brought the heartening news that ending child poverty is being encouraged in United Churches throughout the country. Bread Not Stones includes letter templates, information about how to raise the issue of child poverty in the 2015 federal election and other resources.

I’ve written here about singer Raffi Cavoukian’s concept of Child Honouring and the foundation for The Centre for Child Honouring on Salt Spring Island, B.C., too. The conference brought together people who understand the very basics of honouring children Indeed, as A Convenant for Honouring Children states, “We affirm our duty to nourish and nurture the young, to honour their caring ideals as the heart of being human. To recognize the early years as the foundation of life . . ."

Indeed, this ship is turning. I can feel it.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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