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Home > Road Trip to Red Lake Dispatches

Premier Wynne should announce her upcoming poverty reduction strategy at the food bank in Ignace Ontario
15 JULY, 2014

I visited Ignace on Thursday July 10, just in time to go to the food bank on one of the two afternoons a month that it is open. The food bank is run by staff from the public health unit and the Mary Berglund community health centre. Three cheers for them!

The food available there, in spite of peoples best efforts, is sad—there is no other way to say it. It's all canned food. Bags of bread crumbs. Lots of candy! The food is not bought by the people who run the food bank—it is provided by the regional food distribution agency—which itself is reliant on corporate donations—mostly of products that are near expiry—or that were not popular in the grocery stores. Most of the food available is—in the most literal sense—leftovers.

The community health centre received a grant last year from a regional source to give people coupons to buy fruit and vegetables from the local grocery store. The grant was not renewed this year. (I heard the same story in Kenora).

Cruel reality

The community health centre has a grant that allows them to distribute coupons that let people get milk from the grocery store for free. Here however is the cruel reality—a person has to get to the community health centre to pick up the coupons. It's three kms from the trailer park in Ignace to the community health centre on the main highway. If you don't have a car—you could walk—in the twelve weeks of summer that Ignace enjoys every year. Or you can take a cab. The fare is $8.75 each way. So it will cost you $17.50 to pick up your 'free' milk coupons.

The Ministry of Natural Resources was distributing moose meat to area food banks. The moose meat came from road kill and from moose they seized from hunters who didn't follow the rules. This was a good thing. (Three cheers for MNR!) However, the public health unit now forbids this as the moose meat is not 'inspected'. (As the worker at the Friendship Centre in Red Lake said "I ain't ever seen a moose with an expiry date stamped on its ass.")

Fishermen—usually from the U.S.—who break the fishing rules, can wind up in front of a local judge—who tells them to pay their $150 fine to the local food bank. Three cheers for the judge! Boos for Premier Wynne.

Diabetes epidemic

The health professionals tell me about the epidemic rate of diabetes. Everything in that food bank makes diabetes worse. The minister of health talks about the diabetes crisis. But Premier Wynne will not put food in the budget of the people who are in most need of healthy food to prevent diabetes.

The public health professionals are mandated by the government to do a nutritious food basket survey every year. The price for a basket of 66 items is researched in stores in communities throughout the catchment area of each public health unit. Ignace and most of the communities I visited are in the Rainy River district - which has the highest food costs in Ontario. A single man or woman between the ages of 31 and 50 needs between $236 and $279 per month to purchase the healthy food basket recommended by public health. No one in the food bank—and no single person receiving Ontario Works of $620 per month—has that much money after rent. (The nutritious food basket does not include personal necessities like soap, toilet paper or feminine hygiene products).

Why—the public health staff asked me—won't the provincial government pay attention to their own research?

The real strategy

This is Premier Wynne's real poverty reduction strategy.

Count on food banks to keep people from starving—but just barely.

Let the voluntary community collect and distribute near expired food that corporations consider leftovers—thereby keeping the community volunteers so busy meeting their neighbours basic needs that the volunteers have no time for advocacy or organizing.

Rely on local charity—including even the misdemeanors of American fishermen—to feed poor people.

Someone who has been reading these daily reports recently wrote to me and said—"I can't believe this is happening in Canada." It is happening, and in communities all across Ontario—not just the north. (Later in the week we will send you a similar report sent to us from Bancroft). There is no question however that in northern Ontario the distances and the long cold winters creates exceptional hardships for people who are poor.

But let's be clear, in a society as wealthy as Ontario, in a country like Canada—no one should live in poverty.

Premier Wynne must go to the food bank in Ignace to announce her new poverty reduction strategy. She can ask the people there if it will put food in their budget. And if not then Premier Wynne should either 'go back to the drawing board' or admit her government is not serious about reducing poverty in Ontario.

P.S. One other indignity: If you have a medical emergency in Ignace and you are taken by ambulance to the hospital in Dryden, the ride there is free. But... you have to find your own way home. If you don't have a friend with a vehicle—the one way cab fare is $210. Until recently if you were discharged from the Dryden hospital in the middle of night, you had to leave, regardless of the weather.

I am told the hospital recently amended its policy—and if discharged during the night you can now stay in the hospital until the morning. (That faint sound you hear is the sound of one hand clapping).

Mike Balkwill
Provincial Organizer, Put Food in the Budget campaign
What we do
Put Food in the Budget is a grassroots activist group working to hold the Ontario Government's feet to the fire on promises made—;but not kept—;to reduce poverty. Our broad goal is achieving social and economic justice for the growing numbers of poor people in this province.
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