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One in four children in Pictou County is living in poverty.
According to statistics from the 2020 Report Card on Child and Family Poverty in Nova Scotia 25.9 per cent of children in the Pictou census district are living below the poverty line. In the broader political riding of Central Nova it’s 24.3 per cent.
While better than some districts in Nova Scotia, it is still among the highest 20 per cent of poverty rates in Canada.
For children in single-parent or minority, the numbers rise even higher. According to 2018 statistics, children raised in single-parent homes had a poverty rate 53.1 per cent.
Despite federal programs such as the Canada Child Benefit which lifted many children above the poverty threshold, it’s clear that many still struggle to make ends meet each month.
“It’s very disheartening,” Ellen Fanning, executive director of the United Way of Pictou County, an umbrella organization that helps distribute donations to various community organizations.
Consistently, she says the organization receives requests for funding to help with poverty and food insecurity issues within the county.
This year was especially trying for many families as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The United Way was called upon to help distribute federal funds, but also funded many community requests themselves. The basic necessity of feeding families was a top priority they saw repeated again and again in applications.
“It seems that so many people are experiencing food insecurity,” Fanning said.
The United Way has done what it can to help. It currently supports programs at Pictou County’s 11 schools which provide backpacks for students to take home on the weekends or during longer breaks for school. It also supported SchoolsPlus programs focused on providing warm winter clothes for students who were going to be required to spend more time doing outdoor learning.
The whole goal behind these and the many other causes the United Way supports was to help parents who are struggling to juggle bills.
“It’s really disheartening that we’re in the position we are with food insecurity in Pictou,” Fanning said. “It’s less expensive to buy unhealthy meals than it is to buy healthy meals.”
And when kids are struggling, Fanning is sure that parents are as well.
“Parents will do everything they can do to feed their kids and go hungry themselves.”
The work that the United Way and the non-profits it supports are doing is much more than a Band-Aid approach. They’re working to help people get into a better position financially and provide them access to resources that will break the cycle of poverty. That includes addressing issues around not only poverty, but also mental health and addictions which can be contributing factors.
One example Fanning points out is the John Howard Society which provided training for people so they could get work in the road construction industry. A job like that can be lifechanging for someone.
“It’s booming now and it’s probably only going to get bigger,” Fanning said.
She heard one account of a person who had been housing insecure and living in poverty who took the course. Now he’s got a place of his own and is living successfully on a budget.
Pictou County Continuous Learning Association (PiCCoLA ) is another organization the United Way has funded consistently over the years. Its work is focused on adult learners. The United Way has helped this year by making sure those attending the classes have enough to eat while they’re in class.
“People can learn more effectively when they’re not hungry. It’s not just children. It’s adults as well,” Fanning said.
Another project they fund is Seeds of Hope Community Garden, which allows people to grow and learn to use their own healthy food.
She knows that without these programs, too many people would fall between the cracks and is grateful for the community that has provided the support to help those most in need.
“There is a crisis,” she says. “It’s not OK the position we have families in.”
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- Pictou County schools play an important role in meeting children's needs
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