The following article was written by Sarah Crellin and John Klein-Geltink for the CRCNA blog, Do Justice. I share it here as an example or model of a way that churches have and can work with their communities to alleviate hunger and poverty in a way that respects and perhaps even restores the dignity of those in need. Sarah and John share the story of how their community of Ingersoll, Ontario has attempted to do just that.
We don’t need statistics to see evidence of poverty in our community – Ingersoll is a small town after all. We all know someone who is having a tough time making ends meet or finding a job, struggling to pay rent, or even finding a place to live. Then there is hidden poverty; the kind we don’t hear about as much but that we know exists – a woman with a disability who can’t pay her utility bills; a teenage boy who is essentially homeless and sleeps on a different couch every night; your child’s friend at school who often “forgets” her lunch because there’s nothing at home to bring. The reality is that many people in Oxford County, including the town of Ingersoll, do not have the same rights as others. The rights to health, to full participation in our community, and to dignity have been stripped away by poverty. The statistics are startling. According to the 2012 Report Card on Child and Family Poverty in Ontario the child poverty rate in 2012 was 14.2 percent. 383,000 children, at least 1 in 7 in Ontario, live in poverty. Research demonstrates that poverty can have a devastating effect on individuals and the communities they come from, affecting everything from health and well-being to rates of mental illness and crime.
Operation Sharing was started nearly 30 years ago by a handful of churches as a grassroots approach to poverty reduction in Oxford County. Today that effort continues, as we work together with 45 church organizations, all levels of government, unions, businesses, community service groups, and individuals. This collaborative effort enables Operation Sharing to provide a number of services that get at the roots of poverty and inequality while at the same time serving the unique needs of Oxford County.
The defining difference between relief (such as giving someone a can of soup for example, or a five-dollar bill) and the type of community development Operation Sharing strives for is that rather than doing things for people in the community, Operation Sharing does things with people in the community. The idea is that not only do we all have gifts to share and things to learn from one another, but we all deserve the right to make our own choices and be part of the problem-solving process. Food for Friends, our emergency food program, is a great example of this philosophy in action. Anyone can donate twenty-five cents at the grocery store till. That money is then turned into food cards which are distributed to those in need. These specially-designed food cards can only be used by the cardholder who then enjoys the freedom to shop at the local grocery store for (non-taxable) items he or she needs and wants. Food for Friends is our answer to the question: Don’t those in need deserve the dignity of shopping with the rest of us? Don’t they have the right to choose their own food and have healthy options like fresh meat, fruit and vegetables? We think so. After all, in a small town like Ingersoll those in need are quite literally our friends and neighbours.
Have you discovered a better way to carry out some aspect of diaconal ministry? If so, consider sharing it here for the benefit of other deacons and those engaged in diaconal ministry. With that said . . . Let the sharing begin!