“Close the Food Banks! Lay us off!” read the signs held by members of Freedom 90.
Who are these people, you ask? A union of food bank and emergency meal program volunteers based in Ontario, Canada, the members of Freedom 90 are getting on the mic about the what they envision for the future of food banks: empowerment, not charity. Which, if successful, means they’ll no longer be needed in the long run:
“Volunteers at food banks and emergency meal programs have earned the right to speak out about poverty in our communities. Freedom 90 Union members are a new and powerful voice for change. We are forming the Freedom 90 Union because we want to retire from volunteering at food banks or emergency meal programs-before we are 90 years old!”
This group of volunteers confronts the model of charity-based food assistance as insufficient to address the underlying needs of those who depend upon food banks. They argue that poverty is being re-branded as “hunger” to mask its cause: inadequate incomes, which are due to low wages, precarious work, and social assistance levels too low to provide adequate housing and food.
A tongue-in-cheek parody of Paul Simon’s 1975 hit, their theme song, Fifty Ways to Close the Food Bank, drives home the fact that their goal is not to increase the number of people they reach or the amount of food they distribute, but ultimately to advocate for an end to poverty.
Fifty Ways to Close the Food Bank: A Community Video Project in Sudbury, Ontario
Freedom 90’s demands are as follows:
1. Lay us off! The Government of Ontario must ensure that social assistance and minimum wage levels are sufficient for everyone to have adequate housing and to buy their own food. 2. Mandatory retirement by the age of 90! Many of us have been volunteering for twenty years and there is no end in sight. The Freedom 90 Union demands the Government of Ontario take urgent action to end poverty and make food banks and emergency meal programs unnecessary. 3. Freeze our wages! Or double them! It doesn’t matter because we are unpaid volunteers.
This article originally appeared in our monthly e-newsletter, the Clearinghouse Connection, which facilitates the exchange of information, resources and ideas among emergency food providers. To subscribe, email [email protected].