Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 15, 2014
You had to know it was coming. Westman has officially kicked the holiday season into high gear and you can already feel the amped-up anticipation of the impending candy-cane hangovers all around us.
The look of storefronts changes as shops peddle their holiday wares, downtown streets take on an extra glow with some colourful lights and the festive season gets an official launch today with the Santa Claus parade.
Yes, folks, Christmas is upon us.
As much as I could have spent more time continuing to shave away at the razor-thin edge of provincial politics, I thought my place this week could better be served focusing on a tremendous need in our community — and the hope that no one goes without at this time of year.
As we learned over the last couple of weeks, the Westman and Area Traditional Christmas Dinner was in jeopardy if funds and volunteers didn’t come forward to help support the cause.
The dinner provides an opportunity for family, food and fellowship to those who are most in need or shut in over the holidays. This long-standing tradition represents some of the best the city has to offer in caring for those who may be alone during what can be a rough and emotional stretch for many.
Thankfully from the dinner’s standpoint, a couple of forward-thinking businesses came forward and this tradition will once again be reality.
However, the thought of that tradition potentially falling short pointed me to much bigger questions this week — have the numbers of those living without grown in the city? Or had our level of support dropped?
This is not meant to be a tug on the heartstrings, but an honest and realistic look at our community as we approach a time of year that strains so many families.
In Manitoba, the number of poverty-level residents and those needing a hand with basic existence is around 100,000 people — or roughly eight per cent of the population. In Brandon and neighbouring areas, if you take those same numbers and break them down even further, you are looking at roughly 6,600 people who year-round live well below the poverty line and make daily choices as to what means the most to them — warmth or food.
Poverty in this community is not picky and stretches beyond those who are unemployed to those who, like many in our city, are chronically under-employed. Factor in the number of people with disabilities trying to make a go in this scenario and the number jumps astronomically.
Those most affected also include seniors, youth and new Canadians — all of whom could use our support this time of year more than any other.
The numbers in our community will continue to grow as cost of living and basic food costs rise. And at a time of government uncertainty, with temperatures turning harsher, the opportunities for people to find a fresh start and warm places to stay dwindle.
So where do we go as a community? This is the time of year, more than any other, that provides an opportunity to reach out and provide a hand-up to those who have not.
Support for an entity such as the Westman and Area Traditional Christmas Dinner was a good start and will ensure that at least for one day, people who suffer in our community do not feel left out.
But there is always more we can do to help those in need.
I look forward to our new city council working with other partners to bring fresh strategies to the table to combat — and hopefully one day eradicate — some of the severe examples of poverty in this community.
There is a dynamic group of members in the council chambers, and hopefully they will make poverty a front-and-centre issue during their terms in office. For a city that has growing numbers of people living well below the poverty level, that undoubtedly would be a good thing.
For more information on to become involved in the Westman and Area Traditional Christmas Dinner follow the link here.