Early efforts to help the homeless and the hungry have kicked into high gear once again as the Christmas season approaches. Those on the front lines of efforts to help those in need say students can play a pivotal role in making a difference.
As a recent Food Banks Canada report noted, food bank usage is up 21 per cent in Manitoba since last year.
University of Manitoba Students’ Union president Heather Laube said she felt that whatever efforts students could contribute was important.
“There is a critical need for students to contribute in any way they can to both alleviating the immediate effects of poverty as well as working to prevent poverty from occurring in the first place.”
Laube also noted that there are things that can be done not just during the Christmas season, but throughout the year.
“There’s a lot that can be done on this front. Last year’s Day of Action was focused on poverty reduction, including food security and homelessness, and through that UMSU built working relationships with several anti-poverty organizations,” said Laube.
“We continue to support anti-poverty organizations doing important work throughout the year and are always on the lookout for ways to usefully act on anti-poverty initiatives.”
In addition to UMSU’s efforts, there are many organizations throughout Winnipeg working to help those in need. Agape Table, one of the largest soup kitchens in Winnipeg, serves more then “80,000 meals per year,” according to executive manager Marc Courtney.
Courtney said that there are many things students can do to help those in need.
“Students can volunteer, show up, donate,” said Courtney.
“Students can also show that these problems don’t happen in a vacuum [ . . . ],” Courtney said, explaining that it is important for students to learn about the issues surrounding food security, such as sustainability and food justice.
Courtney noted that the support for programs to help the needy surges during the Christmas season.
Vanessa Kozak, female representative for the University of Winnipeg Aboriginal Student council, agreed that it is important for students to educate themselves about the effort they’re supporting.
She touched on the issue of homelessness, and explained that students need an awareness of why people are homeless.
“A lot of people we see who are homeless, we just judge them [when] they might have a mental illness, they might have no support,” said Kozak.
Kozak also discussed the issue of poverty among many First Nations people, especially in the context of First Nations people living off-reserve.
Kozak explained that the intergenerational effects of residential schools are still with us today.
“A lot of [First Nations] people don’t have parents who can take care of them properly; many go to school hungry and without what they need,” said Kozak.