Child hunger problem for Interlake youth necessitate healthy meal programs

This article appeared in the Jan. 31, 2018 issue of the Interlake Enterprise…

According to the 28th annual Manitoba Child and Family Report Card which provides a measure of child and family poverty rates across the country, Manitoba has the second highest child poverty rate in Canada, second only to the Territory of Nunavut.

The province’s child poverty rate is listed at 29 per cent, a full 10 percentage points above the national rate, according to Campaign 2000, a coalition of more than 120 organizations which are lobbying governments to take action against poverty.

The numbers, released last November, indicate that there has been a significant rise in poverty since 1989. In 2015, 81,970 Manitoba children lived in poverty—that is approximately one in every 3.7 Manitoba children.

The report states that “low income Manitoba families with children are living in much deeper poverty than those in Canada as a whole. Many families are living in deep poverty.”

The statistics show that half of lone parents with two children would require more than $13,000 just to reach the poverty level and half of couples with two children would require just over $12,000 to meet that bottom threshold.

This poverty has not left the Interlake region untouched. Anders Kuussalka, who has recently become the Director of the Youth For Christ organization in Arborg, believes there is a real problem with child hunger in some of our communities.

Anders has recently been working on bringing a food program to both Gimli and Arborg so teens between 13 and 18 can get a hot meal and nutritious food.

It breaks my heart when I see what some of these kids live with. Some of them have really hard lives. Some of these kids, they don’t have healthy choices,” Kuussalka lamented.

The kids who come to us, a lot of them, are in that position,” he said.

Kuussalka has been facilitating food programs at, both, the Bridge in Arborg, a youth drop-in centre, as well as at the drop-in centre held in Gimli’s Lakeside Church basement.

Yes, in the high school cafeteria there is food, but the kids who don’t have money, what can they do?” Kuussalka asked.

He noted that there are breakfast programs in place in the schools already, but that the food consists of fruit only.

We want them to have a hearty meal,” he said.

Kuussalka has been accepting donations of food from local stores such as Sobeys, Super A and Interlake Co-op.

The stores are giving us healthy foods, salads and fruit platters,” he said. Other businesses, such as Chicken Chef in Arborg, will occasionally provide something for the youth, he added.

Because hunger is such a problem among some of the local youth Kuussalka meets, beginning in February, hot meals will be offered at the Bridge drop-in centre at no cost to youths. The meals will be available every Tuesday and Thursday evening there.

In Gimli, at Lakeside Church, kids will be able to have a nutritious lunch in addition to having access to the recreational activities offered. The meals will be free for any of the youths who drop in. Kuussalka feels it is important that the meals be available to all of the kids who drop in to prevent individuals from feeling stigmatized.

“So far we have only been doing it after school, but we want to start a lunch program on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” said Kuussalka. “I’m finding that kids are really hungry. It’s amazing how many kids are asking, “do we have any healthy food tonight?”

The child poverty rate is no secret to organizations, nor to the Manitoba government. In its 2017 budget, the Pallister government noted that “The year 2017 marks a renewal of Manitoba’s Poverty Reduction and Social Inclusion Strategy (PRSI) and an end to the previous five-year All Aboard cycle.”

The Poverty Reduction Strategy Act which is in place requires the Manitoba government to review and update its plan every five years.

To that end, Families Minister, Scott Fielding, and Education and Training Minister, Ian Wishart, are inviting Manitobans to share their thoughts on how to prevent and reduce poverty. They announced the launch of consultations and hope to implement suggestions from organizations and members of the public in developing a new poverty reduction strategy.

An online survey will be available early in 2018.

In the meantime, Manitoba families continue in their struggle to find enough resources to provide healthy food for their children.

 

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About Teresa

Teresa Carey is a ceramic artist, writer, photographer, journalist, publisher and nature lover. She lives in Manitoba's Interlake on a small acreage close to the shores of Lake Winnipeg.

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