“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.”  (Seneca). The Breakfast with Santa Foundation is the very manifestation of this maxim whose unparalleled compassion and enduring commitment never fail to capture the very essence of humanity through their continuous acts of kindness and philanthropy. Founded 25 years ago, by Maria Esteves this grass root organization is an everyday miracle that touches the lives of countless children. Through the provision of food to over 150 kids in 4 different schools in the GTA, the organization seeks to battle the underlying evils of child poverty and hunger; acute societal conundrums that continue to grow and fester with time and indifference. But how do the kids indulge in a healthy breakfast once school’s out? The Maggie Steacy Summer Breakfast Program, co managed by Tracy Sakamoto, is an altruistic endeavour that ensures that every kid’s need is attended to, even during summer hours. The Christmas Breakfast is yet another facet of this foundation that presents under-privileged families with a Christmas experience that is as heart warming as the season’s blessings itself. It extends beyond breakfast to include puppet shows that spark one’s imagination, fairy tale characters that spring forth with magic and of course, bountiful gifts hand-picked and wrapped with a big bow on top! Yet another unique feature of this organization is that it is 100% volunteer driven; thus every effort that is invested into this program is genuine with no expectations of anything in return except the deep satisfaction that arises from making someone’s day better. Ms.Esteves states that, “Our long term goals are to be able to reach as many hungry children as possible to ensure that they too have a better chance at succeeding in life. A hungry child is not capable of learning as he/she should.” Another one of the Foundation’s goals is to establish an operations centre that is well equipped to store the necessary supplies, while creating a store like atmosphere where a child accompanied by a parent could “shop” for clothing apparel pro bono. Each child would receive vouchers that allocate a certain number of points pertaining to the child’s age. The purpose of this activity extends beyond mere fun and games. Ms.Esteves seeks to ingrain the fine habit of budgeting in minds of the youngsters while educating them about the value of money. A cooking camp directed towards teaching teenagers how to cook and shop for healthy, and inexpensive meals is definitely on the menu! But Chef Esteves has greater and grander plans for the kids too. The creation of community gardens where kids from low income families could farm essential products and fend for themselves is yet another goal on her to-do list. Sustainability is the key word here folks. In a world that is possessed by this rat race, to be more, do more and have more, Breakfast with Santa remains a shining luminary that truly comprehends this simple yet profound truth of life – the more you give, the more you get.

 

Through rose tinted glasses

             While organizations like Breakfast with Santa do engage in activities that strive to better the lives of countless children, their existence and the increased reliance on their services are indicative of a greater epidemic that continues to plague upon the innocence and childhood of many – child poverty. According to the UNICEF child poverty can be defined as, “Children living in poverty are deprived of nutrition, water and sanitation facilities, access to basic health-care services, shelter, education, participation and protection, and that while a severe lack of goods and services hurts every human being, it is most threatening and harmful to children, leaving them unable to enjoy their rights, to reach their full potential and to participate as full members of the society.” The region of Peel has experienced exponential growth in terms of population and commercial. It has experienced a population growth of 17%, thus supporting 1.2 million families. Its consistent influx of immigrants further contributes to the massive increase in Peel’s population. It also accounts to 10% of Ontario’s population and employment levels. Its expansion of activities in the municipal landscape however, fails to capture the veracity of the current reality; thus constructing a rose-tinted image that has carefully concealed this chronic epidemic.
While success stories within the region of Peel often blind people, the statistics relating to child poverty paint a different picture. According to the report “Region of Peel: Reversing Child Poverty”, a shocking 22% of child population within region of Peel experience poverty in their day-to-day lives. 48% of these children come from families that have immigrated to Canada in hopes of creating a better life for themselves. These children often hail from low income families that are continually forced to choose between a daily meals and rent payment. Such choices deter a child from healthy life style choices and rob them of their rights to create a safe and sustainable future for themselves. The reasons for poverty vary from one family to another. There is no simple or clear cut reason for their current state of being. The nature of their poverty could arise from personal sources: lack of education, physical or mental disability, or death of a loved one. Structural deficiencies could also account to the creation of this epidemic. Laws and policies within the region could debilitate members from functioning to the fullest of their potential. Rigid requirements of social assistance programs that often consist of few benefits and time consuming procedures along with the increased difficulty in accessing Employment Insurance contribute to the deepening of this issue. Housing affordability is yet another issue that seems to have been lost in time and complicated bureaucratic boundaries created within the region. Recent results indicate that it takes almost 21 years to for a family to obtain a house if they are to be placed in the waiting list in 2009. In 2009, the number of people waiting for an affordable housing unit consisted of 13,500 households. Access to healthcare is another issue that needs to be addressed. Children are often forced to wait six to eight months before being able to receive mental health services. For those who are in need of sexual abuse treatment, the waiting list is somewhere in between 12 to 15 months. These crippling statistics are a portrayal of a disease that demands the immediate attention of those within the region.
While desperate times call for desperate measures, little is being done to accommodate the needs of these families. Another facet of this problem is the societal impact on poverty. Issues like racism and sexism hinder and stall growth within the community.
The impact of this evil is often felt by the children of the household who are one of the most vulnerable citizens within a community. Child poverty promotes higher levels of physical and mental illness, especially through the limited access to health care. It carefully erodes mental and emotional health, stalls growth and limits one from realizing his or her true potential. It steals opportunities towards betterment and replaces them with obstacles that cause these children to further sink in to the very depths of depravity. It leads to the creation of social classes that stratify these children on a day-to-day basis. It prevents them from investing in the best of education, thus making them victims of a cycle they were forced into. It marginalizes and isolates them in to corners that no child should ever inhabit in. It gives way to youth crime and corruption. It robs them of their childhood, forcing them to act and think like adults.
Who is responsible for solving this problem, you ask? Everyone. Each and every citizen within the community is responsible for creating a space that recognizes and respects everyone’s rights while providing them with the opportunity to better themselves and their situations. A society could only function to the fullest of its abilities when all of its members participate in its need for progress. A solution of hope and difference could only be realized through the dawning of a profound understanding of the impending issue; through a promise of change that sinks its axe in to the roots of evil instead of fruitlessly hacking at the leaves.

 By: Rashmi Logo

Credits: Maria Esteves