People often ask us, “Why help people living in poverty in other countries when there’s poverty here in Canada?” It’s a complex question, with a lot to consider, but in many ways, it can be answered quite simply, too: Why not both?

At Compassion, our expertise is global poverty. We’re so thankful for partners in ministry who are committed to fighting local poverty—because we know that fighting poverty isn’t just about one thing. It needs to be a holistic effort! That’s why we love to hear about Compassion supporters who also support local organizations and causes.

Today, we wanted to share some of our favourite ways to fight poverty here in Canada. Local poverty is an issue with a lot of intersecting layers. Sadly, because of a wide variety of systemic injustices, poverty in Canada often occurs based on certain demographics, such as disability, age, immigration status or racial background. You’ll see that reality reflected in this list.

We hope you are inspired to take action right where you are—to love your literal neighbours! We can’t all do everything, but we can each do something.

1. Give to a local food bank

Volunteers sort food at a food bank.

Food security isn’t just an issue around the world. Canadians experience food insecurity, too, even more so in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the pandemic, an estimated 4.5 million Canadians, approximately one in 10, experienced food insecurity. In the first two months of the pandemic, that number rose by 39 per cent, with one in seven Canadians experiencing food insecurity (CTV News).

Giving to a local food bank is a great way to fight food insecurity in your community. Consider running a food drive in your neighbourhood. And don’t forget that food banks don’t just need non-perishable food donations, but often have a bigger need for monetary donations in order to purchase fresh food like eggs, bread, milk or vegetables—things vital to a healthy diet!

2. Welcome newcomers to Canada

A building with Canadian flags hanging on it.

Every year, Canada proudly welcomes immigrants from all over the world to come and call Canada home. Sadly, their experience of Canada as home is not equal. A 2017 Statistics Canada report states that in 2012, the chronic low-income rate among immigrants was 3.3 times higher than among Canadian-born individuals. A 2016 report by Citizens for Public Justice revealed that 34 per cent of new immigrants and refugees live in poverty.

There are lots of ways to support newcomers to Canada. Perhaps some of your neighbours are newcomers—if so, consider a COVID-safe porch visit to say hello and offer any help with getting settled. There are also many local organizations, likely in your own town or city, that serve newcomers to Canada, especially refugees. Do some research to learn how you can volunteer or make a donation.

3. Learn how to tackle homelessness

A woman hands something to a man sitting on the street.

Homelessness is perhaps one of the first issues that comes to mind when we think about local poverty in Canada. There are so many ways we’re used to responding: volunteering at a soup kitchen, giving money to a someone asking on a street corner, donating to a homeless shelter. These are great ways to respond to homelessness! But are there things we’re missing as we’ve perhaps become desensitized to the issue?

Consider learning from local housing advocacy groups. Get involved with local homeless shelters and organizations that are committed to journeying with people experiencing homelessness long-term. Find an organization helping individuals experiencing homelessness transition into permanent housing and learn how you can help. 

4. Support organizations serving vulnerable kids and youth

A young man walks down a hallway.

Children and youth are at the core of Compassion’s ministry around the world, because we know they are the most vulnerable when it comes to poverty. That’s no different here in Canada, which is why local organizations that serve vulnerable kids and youth are so important!

Find organizations to support that are committed to serving kids for the long haul—who, like Compassion, know that to change a child’s life, you need to journey with them from womb to workforce. Consider volunteering to invest long-term in a child or teen’s life through mentorship or giving regularly to a local organization to support their ongoing work with kids and youth.

5. Learn about issues facing Indigenous communities

Children of the Shawi tribe run in a field, wearing their colourful traditional clothing.

Indigenous children of the Shawi tribe in Peru who are part of Compassion’s program run by a local church in their community.

The Canadian Poverty Institute writes that Indigenous people in Canada experience the highest levels of poverty. One in four Indigenous people in Canada live in poverty and four in 10 of Indigenous children in Canada live in poverty. Indigenous people in Canada and around the world have been systemically marginalized for many generations, leading to unjust issues like poverty amongst Indigenous communities.

Learning about how to take action to address systemic injustices facing Indigenous communities is especially important work for non-Indigenous Canadians to do. Organizations like Mennonite Central Committee Canada, Christian Peacemaker Teams and the Christian Reformed Church have resources to help Christians learn and take action.

6. Support and raise awareness for people living with disabilities

A woman stands beside another woman who is using a wheelchair.

According to Statistics Canada, people living with disabilities in Canada are more likely to live in poverty than those who don’t live with a disability. It’s a sobering reality that highlights the importance of continuing to create a more inclusive and accessible society.

Get involved with organizations that support people living with disabilities. Get educated on how you can stand in solidarity with the disability community, such as through advocating for inclusive policies at your church, school, workplace or in your wider community. Learn how you can practically support your disabled friends and neighbours, especially during the pandemic, such as by delivering groceries or meals.

7. Learn from local activists

Toronto's city hall

Hot-button issues at the provincial and national level often get all the attention. But in communities across Canada, local activists are doing important work to raise awareness and action for local issues.

Is there an issue in your community that you care about, particularly regarding local poverty? Learn what local advocacy groups might already be addressing it and get involved. Listen to activists who have been at it for much longer than you. Learn about how your municipal government works to understand how you can be a more effective advocate. The big, sensational issues might get all the airtime, but the small, local issues often have the biggest impact!

8. Get involved with your local church

A building with a cross on the roof.

Just like our 8,000 local church partners around the world, we know that local churches here in Canada do so much every day to love their neighbours and address poverty in their local communities. If you want to do something to fight local poverty, we’d guess there’s a way to get involved through your local church.

If not, consider leading the charge by starting an initiative amongst your church community to get involved locally and reach your neighbours experiencing poverty. Whether here at home or around the world, we love seeing local churches get empowered and equipped to make a difference in their communities!

Feeling inspired to do good?

Read more about what the Bible says about poverty and generosity. 

Learn more

Alyssa Esparaz

Alyssa Esparaz

Alyssa is Compassion Canada's Manager of Content and Public Relations, telling stories that inspire and equip compassionate people to take action on behalf of children in poverty. She is a graduate of the University of Toronto, where she studied International Development, and a current Master of Communications Management student at McMaster University.