A Different Approach

Everyone has heard the saying "Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; give a man a fish he eats for life."

After volunteering in a food bank for years, giving people fish (and plenty of other food) every week, it's hard just plain stupid to believe that doing the same thing every week for the same people can produce change.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. So after more than half a decade of volunteering 5 days a week, I felt more like an enabler than actually giving a hand to people.

You Can't Fix What You Don't Measure

Food banks can cite how many families they serve every week, how many people total in those families, even in many cases what the retail value of the food given out every week.

Ask them about their success stories ... you get the same statistics.

Realistically, that's not a measure of success, but an admission of failure. Especially in the face of demand incresing every week because you're doing nothing to enable people to get back on their feet.

I suggested having a social worker on site once in a while, or a community health worker, someone from a mental health support group, or making other resources available to those waiting in line or who wanted to make a discreet appointment, only to be repeatedly told "We don't do that."

Why not?

"That's some other organisation that handles that."


"... (names of organisations that DON'T actually do what I proposed) ..."

True success is measured in giving people a hand up, not repeated hand-outs. Learning how to budget, assess the local job market, evaluate their skills, how to interview, and acquire on-the-job training via job shadowing or volunteer work, with the end goal of them re-entering the job market and no longer needing a hand-out.

There are a million jobs going begging in Canada, and a million unemployed. Peole claim it's because there's a mismatch between available jobs and potential workers skills, but that is not the whole store by any means.

There are plenty of semi-skilled and unskilled jobs going begging.

We Now Know It's True That Many People Just Don't Want To Work

With a million job available, the pandemic and subsequent labour shortage has exposed just how many people don't want to work. They have opted to spend the rest of their lives on welfare. We see it all the time.

Someone placed in an institution - be it long term care or a prison - becomes institutionalized. It only takes a few weeks.

Similarly, many people are "welfare-ized." They don't want to risk the security of a regular welfare payment, free prescription drugs, and possibly a subsidized apartment + electricity.

Same with people who don't even begin their job search until the get the notice that their EI (Employment Insurance) or Workman's Compensation benefits are being cut off. In my voluneer wor I met many "exhaustees" who were in a sudden panic.

Without a doubt we've created some perverse incentives for people not to work, and those of us on the front lines have seen it over and over, and we're tired. Physically exhausted, because there just aren't enough volunteers to keep supplying the free labour to serve those who wouldn't do what we do even if you paid them.

Again, doing the same thing, with the same clients, and expecting different results, is not "making a difference." Making a difference would mean getting them off welfare and into work.

And The There Are Those Who Just Don't Know How To Enter/Re-Enter The Labour Market

Hey, I get it. It can be intimidating. Especially since people are given the same 1980's-era advice about posting resumes.

And then there are those who fail to realize that they've "aged out" of their profession - that companies can get younger, eager to please hungry recent graduates with a fresh education, and that karma - what goes around, comes around, is now happening to them, same as they got their start by being hired over someone 25 year older.

Unless your profession has a shortage of workers, you're going to end up being interviewed by people 20 - 30 years younger than you.

Because experience only counts until it's stale and outdated. It might seem unfair, but you have to keep in mind that's probably how you got your start, and it's a rude awakening that leaves too many people without a clue as to even evaluate "what news?" And you can send out thousands of resumes, won't change a thing. Reality bites - HARD!

There's got to be a better way - one that directly involves employers looking for employees interacting with potential employees as part of the process.

The Current Methods Are A Huge Waste Of Human Potential

So why don't food banks offer the skill-building services their clients and so many others so obviously need? As I pointed out earlier, their response is "There are other organizations that provide that help."

But food bank clients are not going to seek those organizations out except to ask for more hand-outs. It's too easy for them to just coast along when the place you get your food from isn't requiring you to take training to end your dependency on others. So food banks have become complicit in perpetuating the cycle of dependency. That isn't helping anyone.

Something's Gotta Give!

No problem is unsolvable. But first you have to admit that the current system of welfare and food banks and people unable to cope with career change is a big part of the problem.

Food banks need to stop pointing to their increasing client load as a measure of their success, but as a sign of failure, shame, and capitulation.

This is the motivation behind AHandUp.org. Being sick and tired of working on the front lines perpetuating failed ways of doing things. It's a waste of volunteer's talent, time, and experience. Especially using retired people, who have so much institutional knowledge about employment and jobs, and using them for donkey work.

If you're tired of being an enabler, volunteering with aHandUp.org may be right for you. It's the ideal work-from-home scenario - all you need is an internet connection and either a tablet, laptop, or computer with a web cam.

We'll work with those who are willing to put in the work to get back on their feet again.

Copyright © 2022, 2023 by Barbra Hudson.

Email: barbra@ahandup.org

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