In early December I helped out at the Salvation Army Christmas hamper distribution event. It felt good to play a small part in making hundreds of people have a happier Christmas—healthy food, toys for the kids. It was especially nice to see boxes of local fruits and vegetables on their way to homes that have a tough time making ends meet.
And another cause for optimism came out in a talk with Barb Stewart, one of the event’s organizers. She pointed out that the number of hampers requested by local families actually went down this year—going against a long-term trend. The organizers were curious to find out what might have caused this drop, since food bank use was up slightly over the year. A quick analysis suggested that it was a number of single people who went against the trend and didn’t register for the hampers.
Those people were on provincial disability benefits, and in September they had received an increase of $100 a month after a decade of frozen benefits. Most of us wouldn’t think an extra $100 a month would make much of a difference, but when you only receive $1000 a month and most of that goes to housing it can make it a lot easier to put food on the table.
Barb also pointed to some of the recent projects that have brought affordable housing to the south Okanagan. Having secure housing can truly turn someone’s life around, and can certainly give a bit of leeway in the monthly food budget.
In mid-December I also helped cut the ribbon at the new Discovery House in Penticton that will provide housing and support for 13 men trying to move away from addiction and back to their families. This group has been so successful in giving lives back to men, and giving those men back to their families. The stories I hear from the men that have been through the Discovery House program are truly inspirational. The house, purchased and renovated with help from federal government funding, has a mix of living space, offices, kitchens and common areas, and will significantly increase the positive impact that this group has on the south Okanagan community.
The South Okanagan Women in Need Society (SOWINS) and WINS in Trail have had similar impacts on the lives of women, especially those fleeing abusive relationships. They continue to expand their services to give women and children a chance for a new life.
In this season of giving, it is so inspirational to hear these good news stories about community groups that make our communities safer and healthier places. And it also shows the benefits of government funding that gives people the hand up they need to live healthy, dignified lives. When people get back on their feet we all benefit.
In mid-January I will be off to Prince George for the annual natural resources conference, then back to Ottawa where further debate on my private members bill promoting the use of wood to boost the forest industry will be close to the top of the House of Commons agenda. I wish you all the best in 2018, and if you wish to get in touch please email me at Richard.firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy New Year!
Richard Cannings is the MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay