Faced with the growing problem of child poverty in the Anglican diocese of Ottawa, Bishop John Chapman in his 2009 Charge to Synod expressed the desire for a strong diocesan response. A major result of that initiative was the launch of the Daily Bread Project in 2011.
Targeting three sites in west Quebec identified by the provincial government as areas of higher socio-economic concern, the Daily Bread Project aims to tackle child poverty by providing nutrition education and teaching food preparation skills to elementary school students, who get to eat the food they prepare.
Leslie Giddings, child, youth and adult learning facilitator for the diocese, noted that while the program is open to everyone and not all the children who participate come from a position of need, many children whose families are struggling economically often benefit from the program.
“We’re supporting the kid that doesn’t have a full lunch perhaps with a little bit of extra food, because he’s involved in preparing a lunch with his classmates that day as part of the nutrition education program,” Giddings said.
Child poverty is one of the 10 issues highlighted in the Anglican Church of Canada’s 2015 federal election resource.
Approximately one out of every seven children in Canada lives in poverty. In Indigenous communities, the problem is even more acute, with one in every two children on Indigenous reserves living in poverty. While Jesus’ example of walking with and helping the poor is well known, the status of children as some of the most vulnerable members of society makes the need to help those in poverty particularly pressing.
National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald pointed to the intergenerational effects of federal government policies and lack of autonomy as major contributing factors to child poverty in Indigenous communities, particularly those in more remote areas.
“The high prices in northern stores are treated as a primary problem when in fact, they’re an effect of long-term abuse and discrimination,” Bishop MacDonald said.
“When your community is disabled for decades [from] taking effective legal action, when your community has had virtually all of the major decisions made by someone who isn’t there, where systemic bias is experienced as massive underfunding for decades and decades, the amazing thing is not that there’s trouble, but that there isn’t more.”
While acknowledging there may be some ways to make moderate short-term impact on the poverty and other social challenges in Indigenous communities, the bishop said that self-determination is an essential part of any long-term solution.
“What we see going on in Alberta, where cities and the province are saying very seriously that they want to have a people-to-people, nation-to-nation relationship, I think that’s a hopeful thing, and I think that you’ll see big advances in things like child poverty in those places that treat it seriously.”
The positive effects of helping disadvantaged groups take control of their own destinies is as much a factor for non-Indigenous people attempting to eliminate child poverty as it is for Indigenous communities.
A vital aspect of the Daily Bread Project, Giddings indicated, is its ability to empower children who participate. Students at participating schools go grocery shopping once a week at local supermarkets under the supervision of a program coordinator and volunteers who teach them how to budget, evaluate labels, and understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy products.
“We know kids who are living in poverty don’t have the same advantages,” Giddings said. “We wanted to see what we could to alleviate that, and we wanted to do more than just make sure they weren’t hungry. We wanted to give them opportunities to feel like they had mastered skills, that they could do things for themselves, that they could make choices to help raise themselves and to help teach their own families more about nutrition.”
In addition to the efforts of Anglican dioceses and parishes to fight child poverty, many individual Anglicans have taken action to address the issue through participation in groups such as Citizens for Public Justice, an ecumenical non-profit organization that promotes justice in Canadian public policy.
“Government and public policy have a huge role in [alleviating child poverty],” executive director Joe Gunn said. “We think the federal government does need to work with the provinces and Aboriginal governments and develop a plan. We think that it should be legislated so that maybe every year or two, there would be a report to Parliament so we could see how progress is going.”
“There are lots of good policy ideas to move forward and address some of these issues of poverty,” he added. “But we need the political will to do it.”
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