Photo C/O Canadian Pacific Railway

For the past 20 years, the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train has traveled across Canada and the United States, spreading holiday cheer and making donations to food banks at each of its stops. This year, it will be making its annual Hamilton stop on the evening of Nov. 28, in Gage Park. 

The Holiday Train is always decked in festive lights and decorations. At each of its stops one of the train cars opens up to reveal a stage for a live concert performance. Both the concert and the event itself are free. The featured musicians will include Alan Doyle — formerly of Great Big Sea — and Beautiful Band. While guests are encouraged to donate non-perishable items to Hamilton Food Share, it’s not mandatory.

“Nothing there costs anything, so even families who might not have a lot of extra can come out and enjoy [the event] as a kickoff to the holiday season to get into the festive spirit,” said Celeste Taylor, the Resource Development Manager for Hamilton Food Share.

Every month, over 13,000 people in the city, including almost 5,000 children, need a food bank every month. As rent in the city continues to increase, food is becoming more difficult to access for many. According to the Hamilton Hunger Report 2019, households who access a food bank spend, on average, more than 50 per cent of their income on housing, increasing the risk of displacement or homelessness. Food is an important part of most holiday traditions, and it can be difficult to celebrate when there’s nothing to put on the table.

Food is an important part of most holiday traditions, and it can be difficult to celebrate when there’s nothing to put on the table.

“Everybody wants to celebrate, whether they’re celebrating Christmas or another holiday, they want to be able to be with their family or to be with the people they care about and food is often central to that. It’s a method of social inclusion when people are able to have the food they need to make a meal. The other part is, here in Hamilton we have such a high percentage of people who are struggling so much with paying the rent that sometimes there just isn’t anything left to buy food with . . . It’s not just holiday food, it’s also being able to put a meal on the table,” said Taylor.

Taylor says that there are many other ways that the community can get involved. “The other thing that people can do is to be looking towards social policy change that would be helping people to cover the expenses of daily life and life’s basics . . . The important message is not that it’s Food Banks or policy change, it’s both.”

Since 1999, the Holiday Train has been contributing donations to local food bank organizations. While the concert in Gage Park is only one night, it’s important to keep that same level of donation energy throughout the year as giving shouldn’t end after the holidays.

The CP Holiday Train will be rolling through Gage Park (1000 Main St. E) on Nov. 28 at 7:45 p.m.

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Photo by Kyle West

By: Neda Pirouzmand

On March 18, Bridges Café unveiled its new “Cards for Humanity” student program.

“Cards” refer to one dollar donations that students can make at checkout in the café. Each donation will go towards a future student’s purchase.

There is a one hundred dollar cap on donations so that funds do not accumulate.

Chris Roberts, director of McMaster Hospitality Services, described the program as user-friendly.

“It’s quite simple. Donate a dollar when you can, or use a dollar when you need it,” he said. “Anyone can donate to the project when purchasing a meal and students can use up to three dollars at a time towards their food purchase.”

Roberts attributes the idea for the program to a McMaster student.

“A student had seen something similar at the 541 Eatery and believed it would be a good way to help students with food accessibility challenges,” Roberts said. “Hospitality Services was supportive of the idea and we have worked hard to get the program elements in place.”

541 Eatery & Exchange is a Hamilton café that uses a pay it forward initiative to give all community members a place at the table.

Café customers can donate a dollar to buy a button, and future customers can use buttons towards their meal.

It should be noted that the program will be funded exclusively via McMaster students, not the university. This may make it less sustainable in the long-term as the successes of the program will be contingent on students’ ability and willingness to donate.

In addition, pay it forward initiatives have the drawback of being vulnerable to abuse.

Students can use cards for humanity donations regardless of whether or not they face food insecurity because there exist no restrictions on program eligibility.

However, Roberts is not focused on those who may try to abuse the system. He maintains that the pilot program’s success will depend on whether it addresses food insecurity and raises awareness for postsecondary food insecurity in Canada.

“There are students who could come and use the program but they don’t because they tell me that they would rather give than receive,” said a Bridges employee named Maggie.

Roberts does not see this initiative expanding in the future as he hopes that the support provided from Bridges will meet the needs of students on campus.

The smooth operation of this program will depend on goodwill. If students do not abuse the program, donations will be allocated towards those who need them the most.

 

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