By NEIL HORNER
Don’t tell Major Rolf Guenther that it’s time Canada shut down its food banks.
To say he doesn’t agree would be an understatement.
Guenther, a familiar face in Oceanside, is responsible for the food bank in the area and he took exception to a recent article in the Globe and Mail, by Elaine Power, called, It’s time to close Canada’s food banks.
In her article, Power argued that food banks can never end hunger and only one in four people who could be classified as hungry actually use the food banks. As well, she said, food banks can never meet the need and must ration how much they can give to clients. She said food banks let governments off the hook from their obligation to ensure income security for all Canadians. Rather than food banks, she argued, government must be held to account to ensure citizens have an adequate standard of living.
Guenther argued that while it’s true the social security system often falls short of the need, that need must be filled somehow, as much as possible.
“The people we meet are not in affluent situations,” he said. For them, the funds received from employment, social assistance, disability assistance and so on, provides them with enough food for about three weeks. Food banks are the bridge to fill the gap.”
Guenther said food banks are a response to a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots.
“Rent goes up, everything goes up, except the income,” he said. “These are the people on the lower end of the income scale, making $11 or $12 an hour and many make less. On that, there’s no way to survive here, paying $850 or $900 in rent. No way. These people stretch their dollars as much as they can, but after three weeks, the shelves are bare and, particularly if you have children, that’s a sad situation.”
Guenther said the food banks allow local people to help local people in a very real, tangible and important way.
“While food banks cannot eliminate all financial problems, they provide the people who are able to give the opportunity to express their concern and care for the less fortunate, without hoping that the government will do the right thing on their behalf,” he said.
He said he knows, first hand, how well that kind of system can work.
“We were refugees in East Germany,” he said. “We had barely anything, just bread and water. There were people in the village who knew about that and they brought us food baskets, anonymously. We didn’t see them do it. They would just show up on our door step in the morning.”
Guenther said being hungry makes it difficult, if not impossible, for people to reach their potential, whatever that may be.
“When you have very little, you wake up every morning and the world looks grey,” he said. “Especially with children, their learning capabilities are less if they are hungry. You can’ learn on an empty stomach.”
To fight this, Guenther said the food bank makes up 700 food packs every month for schools.
If food banks disappeared, he said, the result would be simple and it would manifest itself quickly.
“Many people simply would not have enough food for them and their family,” he said. “Health costs would increase, because if you don’t get enough food, you get all kinds of problems and it costs the taxpayer even more in the end. Everyone suffers.”
Comments on a recent survey given to food bank recipients, showed, he said, how important the service is to the people who use it.
“It keeps me alive,” said one respondent. “It helps me so I have food all month,” said another. “I wouldn’t be able to survive without the Salvation Army’s help,” said a third. “It takes a lot of stress off me to be able to feed my children healthy meals.”
And the help is clearly appreciated.
“You’re all beautiful,” wrote one respondent.