Editorial 

Give us this day our daily bread...

The black reusable shopping bag has been hanging on the back of my office door for a few days now.

Attached to it is a large white sheet imploring me to fill up the bag with pasta, cereal, shampoo, rice, peanut butter and other goods.

And I will, as I always do this week for the food bank drive that has become part of the Crankworx celebration - though in past years I've just given cash.

There is a certain amount of irony in doing this as I wander the village and note the tens of thousands of dollars in mountain bikes and associated equipment rolling through.

Indeed the number of high-end bikes resident to our town is astonishing in some ways. I know there are people living here who scrimp on food to buy "toys."

That's a personal choice and as long as our social services don't end up feeding people who choose to do that I don't have a problem.

We've all chosen crazy priorities at one time or another - and nowhere more than Whistler are stories about these "decisions" more celebrated.

Just recall the number of people who squatted here in the early days to ski and pioneer the development of the area. Money was often cherished for the joy it brought, not the bellies it filled.

I recall signing a lease on an inspiring flat in Hampstead, London, that I just had to live in, in order to be a journalist: it came with a diet of rice, beans and hot-sweet tea.

I survived and loved every minute of it. But it was my choice.

Being hungry is not a choice for millions around the world. Being hungry is not a choice for hundreds in the corridor nor for some right here in Whistler.

In recent weeks Pique has carried a number of stories about the high use of our food bank, which is run by the Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS).

"On our next open day we are likely to surpass our 2010 numbers entirely and that's pretty much what's been happening over the past few years, by summer we are at the numbers we had the year before," Sara Jennings, WCSS food bank coordinator, told Pique recently.

"It's been something that has been really challenging so we've been working with other partners in the community to figure out what is going on and how we can improve the situation for the lower income brackets in Whistler."

May was the food bank's busiest month on record with 434 visits to the trailer at the bottom of Lorimer Road.

Recently WCSS called a meeting bringing together Whistler Blackcomb, the Whistler Centre for Sustainability, Training Innovations, Mayor Ken Melamed and the Chamber of Commerce to brainstorm on how to deal with demand and supply.

At the root of the issue for the most part is that people do not earn enough to pay for all the necessities of life - though I am sure there are some who need the food bank because they made the wrong choices with their paycheques.

It is difficult to imagine that there might be people living in Whistler who are living in poverty: even the label is troublesome as there are so many definitions globally. After all, "the poverty line" in Whistler is quite different from the poverty line in urban, rural or international settings.

Statistics Canada pointed out earlier this year that Canada has one of the highest proportions of low-paid workers in the industrialized world.

And the number-crunching organization states that B.C. has also had the highest rate of child poverty for seven straight years. The number of children living in poverty is decreasing, but not fast enough to move B.C. from its ranking as the worst in Canada.

That's hard to reconcile with Premier Christy Clark's talk about families first.

There is also an argument to be made that food bank use and poverty are not linked. Statistics Canada tells us that the number of households below the low-income cut-off is falling - to 9.4 per cent in 2008 down from 14.8 per cent in 1993. Yet food bank use across Canada continues to rise.

In March of 2010 food banks were used at a record level - 867,948 people came through their doors. Of those, over 80,000 were first-time users. Since 2000, food bank use has gone up 19 per cent.

But you can't look at the issue of food bank use without considering earnings.

According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a living wage for a family of four in Vancouver is $18.83 per hour. In Whistler, according to Dan Wilson, a sustainability planner with the Whistler Centre for Sustainability, a family of four with a nine year old and a 13-year-old needs to earn about $20 per hour.

The issue with the wage level, Wilson went on to point out, is that the wage has to be affordable for the employer as well.

Understanding this may go some way to explaining why the food bank is under siege by users.

Yes, there are some jobs, yes, the pay is not too bad: but rents/mortgages are expensive, not every job comes with a ski pass, heating costs are high in the winter, bikes are expensive and for a family you have to add in ski equipment costs (even second hand it adds up), perhaps even ski school, as well as other activities and equipment.

Sure you can live here and not do any of the activities, but really, why would you?

And please, if governments can come up with a "plan" to combat climate change it should be able to come up with one to combat child poverty... and give those who donate to the food bank tax credits so "big business" can be drawn in to help.

 

 

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