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Put food in the budget: press release

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OTTAWA – – Put Food in the Budget launches its Diet Challenge today, January 24th. During Challenge Week, 20 high profile Ottawans will take part in a public act of solidarity with people on social assistance: For three days to one week they will try to live with some of the very limited food options faced by people on social assistance in Ontario. Challengers include Ottawa MP Paul Dewar, Councillors Mathieu Fleury and Rainer Bloess, Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health Isra Levy, musician Jill Zmud, Whalesbone head chef Charlotte Langley and many others.

At the end of challenge week, campaign organizers will be making a deputation to the Provincial Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs with the help of some of the challenge participants. At 9:30am, Friday, January 28 at the Marriot Hotel on Kent Street, they will be urging the Ontario government to take immediate action to address the chronic hunger and poor health experienced by people living on social assistance. The campaign demands an immediate $100 Healthy Food Supplement per month for every adult receiving social assistance as the first step toward income adequacy for people on Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program.

“Social assistance simply does not provide enough to allow people to choose healthy foods like fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, meat and dairy, or other foods”, said Erin Krekoski of Just Food. “We have a collective responsibility to ensure that everybody in our community has enough to eat, and this campaign is working towards that”. The proposed Healthy Food Supplement would help social assistance recipients at the grocery store checkout – in turn helping to sideline some of the serious health and social effects of prolonged poor nutrition.

Meanwhile, organizations like the Ottawa Food Bank, soup kitchens and meal drop-ins are seeing an increased demand for emergency food hampers and free meals. “These organizations are doing important work to help people get by in times of need, but we can’t rely on charitable programs alone”, said Simone Thibault, Executive Director of the Centretown Community Health Centre, “If more and more people need emergency supplies on a regular basis, this signals to us that too many in our community are facing food insecurity. Our public policy has failed and we need to put healthy food back in the budget.”

While the realities of poverty and food insecurity cannot be simulated over one week, it is the organizers’ hope that this challenge will be a show of solidarity and will help to build the momentum for longer-term changes. The campaign is a part of the larger, province-wide Put Food in the Budget campaign, first launched in January 2009.

More information about the Put Food in the Budget Challenge can be found at http://putfoodinthebudget.ca, or at the Ottawa campaign blog, http://ottawadtmc.posterous.com, where challenge participants will be writing about their experiences.

Local partners are ACORN, Coalition of Community Health and Resource Centres (CHRCs), Just Food, Entraide Budgétaire, Ottawa Poverty Reduction Network, Social Planning Council, Ottawa Inner City Health, Dalhousie Food Cupboard, Carleton University Graduate Students’ Association, Interfaith Sandy Hill, Jewish Family Services, All Saints Anglican Church (Sandy Hill), and the Somali Centre for Family Services.

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