Last month, participating in a project spearheaded by Dignity for All: The Campaign for a Poverty-Free Canada, students from two Christian high schools—one in Edmonton, Alta., and one in Smithville, Ont.,—joined over 80 communities across Canada to draw attention to poverty and hunger.
Dignity for All was founded in 2009 by two organizations, Canada Without Poverty and Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ), a national organization of members inspired by faith to act for justice. For the last five years, every October, the campaign has asked citizens to “Chew on This!” Volunteers disseminated lunch bags and materials printed with facts about poverty in Canada and calling for action toward its eradication. Part of the focus is to call on the federal government to act on a comprehensive national strategy to make Canada poverty-free. Each lunch bag contained a postcard directed to Canada’s Minister of Families, Children, and Social Development asking for actions on affordable housing strategies, childcare plans, income security, and other concrete measures.
“I thought this might be an opportunity to get involved in the discussion in the classroom and have impact outside the classroom,” said Helen Krol, a teacher at Edmonton Christian High and member of Bethel Christian Reformed Church who helped bring this campaign to her school. “My Science 30 students prepared 300 bags, each with a card, a magnet, and a food item which the class purchased.” Originally the idea was to hand out the lunch bags on city street corners, but field-trip supervision protocols required a change of plans. Instead, each student was asked to pass on a bag to neighbors in their community. “I enjoyed that the manner in which we distributed got the whole school involved,” Krol said.
At Smithville (Ont.) Christian High School, Jim Dekker, a member of Jubilee Fellowship CRC and chair of the board for CPJ, spoke at a morning chapel, asking students to consider Scripture’s many references to feeding the hungry and encouraging all to pick up a lunch bag—perhaps only eating its single granola bar that lunch period in solidarity with those who have little.
“It’s just not right as Christians to leave people starving and in need,” said one Edmonton student, reflecting on the experience. “As Christians it should be our goal to help everyone.”
Said another: “I can help by rallying behind campaigns like Dignity for All and spread awareness for the issue of poverty in Canada. In the past I’m regretful that I haven’t done much other than the occasional trip to the homeless shelter to give out food and clothes. In the future I can help by trying to do things on a bigger scale like getting more active in the community to bring change.”
That response is what Dekker hoped for in bringing the campaign to schools. "We want to open kids up to the intersection of gospel and political work,” he said.
An Ontario youth group also got involved. Joanne Adema of Bethel CRC in Waterdown, Ont., went with three young people to a local cinema on discount night, offering passersby free apples with the marked lunch bags.
“It was a simple gesture on our behalf, and yet gave the opportunity to think about ways that we can make a difference,” she said. “As we handed out the bags with information and apples, the responses were quite varied—some people avoided us at all costs, some avoided us until they found out that we didn’t want money, some seemed suspicious of us, and most thought that we were doing a good thing and promised to look at the materials in the bag.”