By: Laurie Monsebraaten Social justice reporter, Published on Tue May 28 2013

For about 30 high school students who have never known a Canada without food banks, a Toronto forum to mark World Hunger Day served up food for thought — and action Tuesday.
Stories at the forum told by teachers, nurses, daycare workers and others who see hunger in the people they work with every day, “rang true,” said Lorelei Campbell, 18, a Grade 12 student at West End Alternative Secondary School student.

“Hearing from people who are experiencing hunger is good,” she said. “But sometimes they can’t tell their stories because it is embarrassing. That’s why advocacy is important.”
Yorkdale Secondary School student Christina Morrison said for most of her peers “poverty seems normal.”

“We see people begging on the streets and walk right by. We don’t bother to ask why,” she said.
Homeless shelters should provide more than a bed for the night, she suggested.

“They could provide resources to help people find a job and improve their lives so they don’t have to live on the streets.”

The daylong forum, organized by the Put Food in the Budget campaign, is part of a pilot for a larger high school initiative around poverty the group hopes to launch next fall.

Most of the discussion centred around the links between hunger and poverty.

More than 400,000 Ontarians use food banks every month because their meagre incomes are spent paying for rent and other fixed costs.

Food banks are now a staple on every Ontario university and college campus due to the high cost of tuition, noted York University graduate Alastair Woods, chairperson-elect of the Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario. Tuition in the province, which averages about $7,200 a year, is the highest in Canada, he added.

“People in Ontario now can literally be ‘hungry for life,’ ” said Sharon Norman, a person living in poverty and a member of the Put Food in the Budget campaign. The group has been pushing for increases to social assistance rates and the minimum wage for several years.

“We must act together to end poverty,” she told the students.

Yvonne Kelly of Social Planning York reminded the students that when she grew up in the 1970s there were no food banks in Canada.

“We need to change the conversation and begin to ask why they are so prevalent today,” she said. “You people have a real opportunity to make a change . . . We pass the torch to you.”

For students who may underestimate their power, Rexdale elementary teacher Nigel Barriffe reminded them that just last spring a Quebec student protest prompted a provincial election that defeated the ruling provincial Liberals.

“That’s what you guys can do,” he said.

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