The Alberta Women of The United Church of Canada are determined to find a made-in-Alberta solution to feed students who are going hungry.
On Saturday they decided nothing less than a universal program would do and the provincial government has to play a role.
“It needs to be offered around the whole province and it needs to be offered to anybody. There shouldn’t be a means test,” said one of the organizers Carolyn Pogue about the recommendations that came out of the Feed the Children conference at Gaetz United Church.
“We are a very rich province. We are a very smart province and we can fix this problem. The Northwest Territories is dealing with this. Ontario is way ahead and Nova Scotia is way ahead of us, so let’s get moving.”
About 80 people from across the province came together on Saturday to discuss ways to end hunger in the classroom as part of The Child Wellbeing Initiative, formed about seven years ago by a group of women with the United Church.
Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director of Public Interest Alberta, said municipalities haven’t seen an provincial increase to the Family Community Support Services budget since 2009 which helps fund local social programs like poverty prevention. To meet its commitment to fund 80 per cent of FCSS costs, the province needs to contribute $25 million more to bring it up to $100 million.
Coincidently in 2009, the province created a $200-metre subsidy for the oil drilling sector because of the downturn in the economy, he said.
“They spent in two years $2.6 billion to subsidize the drilling industry,” Moore-Kilgannon, a panelist at the Feed the Children one-day conference.
Supporting children comes down to choice and mobilization, he said.
“The funding is there. We have the capacity to do it,” he said.
MLA David Swann, Liberal critic for health and human services, said for years government leadership has been lacking when it comes to eliminating poverty and he doesn’t have any confidence things will change with new Progressive Conservative Premier Jim Prentice.
But the citizens of Alberta can put a stop to that with their votes, he said.
“(Government) makes priorities when citizens tell them in no uncertain terms if they don’t make it a priority, they’re not going to be there . . . . in the next election. And that people are going to be actively organizing so they don’t get elected next time,” said Swann who attended Saturday’s conference.
He said the conservative government is set in its “pull up your socks” mindset when it comes to poverty.
“I define poverty as a form of violence. And when we start thinking about poverty as a form violence, we stop thinking about blaming the victim and we start thinking about our collective responsibility,” said the MLA for Calgary-Mountain View.
Red Deer North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski said according to the 2013 PIA report, From Words to Action, there has been a decline in child poverty over the years.
“There is good news. We have managed to reduce child poverty,” said Jablonski who also attended the conference.
“I think there is political will for sure. None of us can feel good about being successful in Alberta when there are people who are hungry, especially children.”
It’s not just an issue for government, it requires a community effort, she said.
“Working together, I think we can solve this problem.”