The Poverty Industry

By Ben Bull
Published December 21, 2006

Jennifer Wells of the Toronto Star gives us a little reminder today of what Christmas is all about.

In telling the story of one man's attempt to help the less fortunate citizens of Toronto, she captures the very essence of our country's ongoing struggle to break the cycle of poverty.

Father Roberto is the self-titled "executive director" of St. John the Compassionate Mission on Broadview Ave. He employs cash-strapped citizens in his basement bakery where they bake bread to "sell to the rich to employ the poor."

Alas, just in time for Christmas, Father Roberto's funding has been cut off. Citing what he calls the "poverty industry" Father Roberto bemoans the City's preference to deal with larger, more professional not-for-profits, rather than his amateurish escapade.

They miss the point, he charges.

"The real work," says the priest, "the real social work, the real change, happens on a micro scale."

In my naïve state of mind I wonder why Toronto - and other cities around the globe - can't afford to give to all these little ventures, but of course I know that's not the way it works.

Good things always happen on a micro sale. For every Warren Buffet multi-billion dollar donation there are a trillion little goodwill gestures that have a far greater effect.

It's these little ventures, these gestures, these insignificant little acts of kindness that truly make the difference in people's lives and give them hope for something more.

As another period of Christmas Consumption looms over me this is something I will try my best not to forget.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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