Dazed and confused

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This is a very confusing time of the year. On the one hand, we’re all looking forward to Christmas and all that means. On the other hand, there are more and more people in our community who can only look forward with anxiety and fear. I can’t remember a time when so many people were in need, and not just the ones you might expect. We have families with jobs, reasonable incomes, who are finding it hard to make ends meet. It is almost becoming a cliche to talk about those who have to choose between paying hydro bills and buying groceries. But that is a fact of life these days.

Now we’re being told to expect to pay between 3% and 5% more for our food next year, which works out to an extra $420 for an average family. This is on top of a rise of 2.5% this year already. The really worrying fact is that vegetables and meats, the real staples for most people, could go up in price by upwards of 6%. There are many reasons being put forward to explain the expected increases, including the weakness of the Canadian dollar, the uncertainty about international agreements, and the arrival of Donald Trump. But the reasons are not, perhaps, as important as the fact itself.

The local Salvation Army team have spent some money sending out full-colour Christmas cards asking for more help in supplying the needs of local families. According to their data, they have had 193 families use their services in 2016, that’s 473 individuals, including 143 children aged 17 and under. The food bank they operate was used more than 1,500 times. That is really troubling, and reflects a genuine cause of concern for this community.

Other social service agencies can report similar statistics for 2016, and no-one is anticipating an improvement in 2017. I recognise that most people would prefer to focus on the more positive aspects of life in North Grenville, but as this is the one time of the year when people are prepared to make an effort to acknowledge these issues, it is important not to pass over the holidays and imagine that, once January rolls around, we can afford to forget it all again.

Now, this is a caring community: of that there is no doubt. In this issue, you can read about the success of this year’s Fill-A-Bag campaign, which collected around $35,000 worth of food for the Salvation Army Food bank. What is really encouraging about that story is that so many people were involved in the campaign this year, including high school students, scouts, Sea Cadets, and a youth group from a local church. This really shows that the people of this area are willing and eager to get involved to make a difference in the lives of their neighbours.

A few years ago, an attempt was made to co-ordinate all such activities over the holiday season, but they were frustrated by the unwillingness of the Salvation Army team to work with other groups. That must not stop future efforts. The problem is bigger than any one organisation, and far more important than anyone’s ego. It requires a united campaign, not just over Christmas, but throughout the year. The North Grenville Social Service Council exists for that very purpose, and it may be time to promote that campaign and see what can be done to get a clear picture of what is happening in North Grenville, so that we can arrange appropriate local solutions.

There are amazing people around here, with bright and practical ideas about how to change things for the better. Bringing together the local food producers, farmers’ market people, land owners and others with expertise, labour or energy to lend would be a wonderful way to begin the new year. In the meantime, volunteer to put in a shift on a kettle (call Lynn Dolliver at 613-258-1638). Drop off food or toys. There are so many ways to help before Christmas.

One wonderful event takes place on Christmas Day itself. The second annual Community Christmas Dinner is happening at Leslie Hall between 11.30 and 3 pm on the 25th. A full turkey dinner, desserts, live music, door prizes, all served up free of charge to anyone who wants to drop by. And how is this happening? Because this community cares, and people have donated time, food, cooking, serving, and anything else that’s needed, so that we can all gather together for an hour or two to celebrate the Great Birthday, with no charge and no strings.

That is what North Grenville does: that is what we must carry forward into the new year, so that no-one will be left behind, no-one ignored in their time of need, loneliness, loss, or crisis. We don’t have to wait for someone in an official capacity to start the ball rolling: we can do this ourselves. Join the Lions, or Rotary, or Kinsmen, or some other service club. Volunteer at a seniors’ residence, or your local school, or the Youth Centre. Find your place in this work, and find also the sense of purpose and meaning being part of this wonderful community can bring.

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