From finding affordable childcare to finding peanut butter substitutes, the issues of child poverty on the Sunshine Coast turn up in the schools, at the food bank and in the community.
On March 13, the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) hosted a symposium on the subject in Sechelt that drew about
50 people. CFUW president Mary Beth Knechtel invited the public to learn the bleak statistics.
Keynote speaker Michael Goldberg, a long-time community development and social research worker, told the audience that at
15.5 per cent, “B.C. has had the worst rate of child poverty in Canada for a decade.”
On the Sunshine Coast, Goldberg pointed to the many families with an average wage of $12,000 who live below the poverty line.
Poverty costs. It can lead to poor health, lost economic opportunities and crime.
He spoke about the importance of negotiating a living wage from employers that ensures enough money for basics — on the Coast in a family of two adults and two children that living wage should be $18.80 per hour.
One of the biggest expenses in a family’s budget is childcare that allows both parents to work. It can cost on average $14,000 a year for childcare as compared to a food basket cost of $9,000. Goldberg compared this figure to programs offered in the Nordic countries, Denmark and Finland, for example, where childcare is publicly funded.
What to do about it? Press our provincial government in various ways, he suggested. For example, address treaty claims that hamper our economic growth, support a higher minimum wage, support a $10-a-day childcare plan and living wages from employers, particularly the banks.
A panel of speakers continued the story. Shelley Grainger from the SC Food Bank described how more than 3,000 households use their services.
“On March 5 and 6, we had the biggest food bank of the year,” she said. “It’s nothing to be proud of.”
The next speaker, Heather Gordon of the Breakfast for Kids program, said the Food Bank is struggling with the peanut butter question. Because of allergy concerns, the childhood favourite is no longer available in bulk, and seven of nine elementary schools on the Coast are nut free. An affordable source of protein must be substituted with more expensive meat, cheese or a nut substitute that relies on the generous donation from a local grocer. A balanced platter of food goes to the schools to be shared, said Gordon, and there’s no discrimination over who uses it.
“We’re failing in our food systems now,” said Meghan Molnar, a Coast nutritionist. She said that local food was out there, but many have difficulty accessing it because of roadblocks such as lack of childcare or transportation. Then they must learn to cook or learn how to grow their own. Fortunately some advocate groups such as One Straw are helping.
Some programs are working, said public health nurse Johanna Rzepa. She’s excited by the nurse/family partnership program in which a nurse follows a family from pregnancy through the first years.
“The greatest challenge is silence,” Rzepa said. “If mothers don’t talk about the very common post-natal depression, it can’t be treated. The community can help draw people out.”
Sarah Pond is “living it,” she said, with her two small children and issues with childcare. She described the Coast’s Success by Six program whose vision is to have children and their families thrive here.
Deb Pepper spoke on behalf of Habitat for Humanity that has provided homes for eight families on the Coast.
“It makes a direct difference in their lives in having the largest portion of their expenses covered,” she said.
Michelle Morton summed up the results of a recently completed, fact-finding Progress Plan. Priorities for families and older women in poverty included increased income and disability rates and affordable quality care for children that allowed parents more job opportunities and shift work.
After discussing the issues in small groups, participants delivered a petition of 42 names to Powell River - Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons’ office asking the provincial government for a poverty reduction plan to be introduced at the next sitting of the Legislature. At the same time, a number of postcards asking for $10-a-day daycare were hand delivered. Symposium attendees vowed to ask candidates running for office in the May election to outline their plans for poverty reduction and ask pertinent questions at all-candidates’ meetings.