I had two experiences last week that reminded me we all have a role to play in these challenging times.
Approximately 700 million people — or nearly 10 per cent of the world’s population — are still living in extreme poverty. In 2021, the World Bank predicted that the number could increase by as many as 150 million by the end of that year due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Canada we are blessed in so many ways with a much higher standard of living but we still have a growing problem as a result of the effects of COVID-19, lockdowns, and people being either unwilling or unable to work. The cost of living is skyrocketing, driving those close to the edge over it. Downtowns in major cities are struggling with the paradox of needing people to return to work sites in the city centre to make them busier and safer, and the fact that people don’t want to go downtown because it is not busy or safe.
I toured Pioneer Place, a housing and meal facility in the Edmonton inner city. Together with several of our friends, we have frequented the Operation Friendship Seniors Society (OFSS) drop-in centre where we donate and serve a meal every now and again. These homeless seniors are our forgotten pioneers. They have been pushed aside and are the people we pretend we don’t see when we pass them on the downtown sidewalk. Circumstances didn’t work out for them. They are no less worthy of being valued and understood than the rest of us and if we care for them properly, the challenges of downtown Edmonton can be addressed. I saw a quote from Carlos Slim Helu, who said “The only way to fight poverty is with employment. It's the only way that money can circulate and create sustainable wealth." If we can help folks find work, they can then afford housing. OFSS (OFFS.org) has hundreds of subsidized apartments, and these take folks off the streets and keep them safe.
My second experience last week was a wonderful gathering of the Cultural Kitchen at the Food Bank. Regularly, community members from diverse groups get together and share a meal prepared from one of the many countries represented. There were folks from Syria, Mexico, Belarus, Ukraine, and many other places. The meal was prepared by a couple of Ukrainian ladies, one of which came to St. Albert in the last few months. The sharing and caring was fantastic as the Holubtsi were prepared. Another attendee shared how a similar dish was prepared in Syria. Before you knew it, all hands were rolling and tucking the cabbage leaves together. With the undercurrent of the one-year anniversary of the Russian brutal assault on democracy, and the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, it would have been easy to lament the problems. What I saw was a united nations meeting at the peoples’ level — listening, learning, and seeking to understand each other. It was heartwarming, as was the meal!
As a woman and a man walked among the poor, the weak and the vulnerable, they couldn’t help but wonder aloud how a kind and loving God could see this suffering and do nothing about it. After a long silence, they heard a voice and God said, “I did do something, I sent you!"
I couldn’t be more proud of the community we live in and the bunch of folks who are our neighbours who just reach into their pocket or pantry, show up at meetings or with work gloves on, and say ‘I’d like to share in serving others’. Thank you to you all.