As difficult as it may be to believe, hunger is still the number one social problem we face on the provincial and national agendas. In Québec alone over 500,000 people simply do not have enough to eat, and it is estimated that close to another million are undernourished. This is a staggering 25% of our population. The national figures reflect the same dreary reality.
The Institute has long been involved with many anti-hunger initiatives including organizing long-term food supplies for one of Canada's largest soup kitchens, the 'Lawyers feed the Hungry' program at Toronto's Osgoode Hall, providing political help for the national food bank network and supporting local Montreal area charities such as Share the Warmth, Chez Nos Amis, amd MADA.
None of these efforts have been as dramatic as the agreements we have recently helped bring to fruition, and which just this week went into effect. Through a coalition of corporations, social activists and unions, the Quebec food bank network, and particularly Moisson Montreal, has been given a long-term commitment of protein based foods which will allow it, over the next few months, to substantially raise the number of clients it now serves from the current 300,000, as well as servicing some of the smaller groups now on waiting lists for help from the central food banks.
The initial agreements which have been worked out, and which are now being delivered on, involve companies in the meat industry. If our planned discussions with agricultural co-operatives work out as well, we will be able to put enough dairy products into the system to allow for yet another substantial increase in the number of people served.
Such a program could not have succeeded without the involvement of a broad and committed group of people. The spearhead on the corporate side was the Cola family of Levinoff Meat Ltd. of Montreal whose vision on this issue mirrors their dedication to a wide range of charitable causes. Laurie Normand Starr of 'Taste of the Nation' provided extraordinary organizational support. The staff of Moisson Montreal from the executive director through the co-ordinators on down were vital by their commitment. H. Luc Robert, Vice-President of Sysco Foods was extremely helpful and encouraging. And Brian Read, Director of the Canadian Meat Council ,was indispensable in bringing together other corporations and organizations into this program and we are now working with him to effect a national initiative on the scale of that which we have just put into effect with the Quebec coalition.
It has been an extraordinary six weeks, and it is an historic alliance for this country.
President Franklin Roosevelt said in his 'Four Freedoms' program that served as the basis of the creation of the United Nations that 'Freedom from want is our common humanity. It is as much an element of man's needs as air and sunlight, bread and salt. If we cannot cure want, a part of us will wither and die. Make men free from want in full and abundant measure and we will cross the threshold of a new age, the greatest age of man.'
So long as we live in a society where the largest growing number of poor are working poor surviving from paycheque to paycheque making up 45% of our work force, where only 5% of our people have a net worth greater than $5,000, where 4% of our population controls 80% of our assets, where great hopes for economic equity have been replaced with pacifying programs for managing fear, we all have an obligation to work to help reach that threshold of a new age. Should any of you have ideas for this program or wish to contribute in some manner, please do not hesitate to contact the Institute's offices.