At this time of the year, many of us are making contributions to food banks and toy banks, often more than once. For many of us, in fact, it has become a regular feature of the holiday season to donate for those in need.
This is a good thing. The impulse to give – not just to our loved ones, but to those we have never met – is something to be celebrated and appreciated.
Without that generosity, this would be a difficult time of year for many. Those who rely on food banks, or are just barely scraping by, hurt even more at this time of year as shops burst with new products and grocery stores pile sweet and savoury foods high.
Amid this abundance, the economic disparity we see all around us is most keenly felt. In the face of that, it makes perfect sense that the impulse for many of us is to reach into our pockets and share a little of the good fortune we have enjoyed with those in need.
So much so, in fact, that grocery stores now make it easy, packaging up food in $10 bundles, with bins right by the cashier to drop them into. You don’t even have to think about it.
We should think about it, however. We should think about it a lot.
To be honest, the overflowing bins I see at the grocery store leave me with mixed feelings.
On the one hand, it is good to see that so many people have donated food to help those struggling during the holiday season.
On the other hand, however, the fact that donating food has become so institutionalized is distressing.
Food banks and toy drives should be temporary measures. Donation drives should just be filling in the cracks in a society that is otherwise able to help all of us provide a decent living for our families. Every day governments make a choice on what and where to put more funding. The aspect of economic justice is one crisis that needs more attention and concrete action. Less talk more cash.
Sure, there will always be those who fall on hard times from time to time, and thankfully there will always be those who step forward to help out when that happens.
None of this, however, should be such a permanent part of how our communities operate.
To truly address the disparity and income inequality in our society and ensure that no families go without, we need real fixes to the problems so many people face.
Work is being done. In Ontario, for instance, changes to workplace and employment laws will help increase the minimum wage and push back against precarious work loopholes and help more workers join unions so they can work with co-workers to build better working lives.
Across Canada, the minimum wage is being raised – albeit slowly – to help get more money into the pockets of some of the most struggling working families.
There is much, much more that needs to be done by governments, however, including removing barriers, wage discrimination and the undervaluing that many workers face – particularly women and racialized workers.
For many women, affordable public child care for example would have a direct impact on their lives, families and their opportunities. For those already in the workforce, it would enable more of their income to be spent on direct family needs – something that benefits all of us all of us in the long run. For those not in the workforce, affordable child care would offer a greater chance to find work and earn a living. Otherwise the reality for many is that you work to put your child in to care and there is little left to live on. That makes no sense.
Many women, however, face other barriers beyond child care. Support is needed for women and children escaping abusive relationships, for instance, so they can begin the process of building a better life.
Women and racialized workers also face barriers breaking into the skilled trades. Barriers rooted in sexist understandings of work and gender need to be broken down for women to get ahead. Unifor has made this a priority in collective bargaining in many workplaces, but more can be done by governments, employers and the labour movement in general.
Sky-rocketing tuition fees and long-term student debt prevent many of the next generation from getting the education needed to compete and build a better life, and so the lack of chronic underfunding of post-secondary today only contributes to the growing economic inequality at the heart of this issue.
For those struggling with addictions and mental illness, supports are needed that help them pull themselves out of their desperate situations.
In short, the real solutions that are needed go far beyond a simple holiday donation. To me, that is not at all discouraging – it just means we had better get started. On the horizon are several provincial elections this year and there is the federal election in 2019. This is the time to turn up the pressure to demand for change. It’s about speaking out today to push for tomorrow.
In the meantime, give generously to food and toy drives in your community. Make the holidays a little brighter for those who are struggling, and remember that the need continues all year long – so don’t just donate during the holiday.
After that, let’s get to work solving the large problem of income inequality in this country.