Sharon Feener’s Food for the 2015 Welfare Food Challenge

Sharon Feener, Prep for the Challenge

As some of you already know, I’ve signed up to do this years Raise the Rates challenge here in BC. But you may be asking what exactly it is…

Over 175,000 people in BC rely on welfare, of which over 30,000 are children. Nearly 4% of the population of BC live on welfare, and it has been near this level since 2009, in the fallout from the 2008 recession. The majority of people, 65%, on welfare are people with disabilities.

Welfare payments have been frozen since April 2007, over 8 years. They were below poverty levels then and now are impossible to live on. A single person expected to work receives only $610 a month, while a person with disabilities receives $906 a month.

When you subtract the average expenses of a single person looking for work (bus tickets, telephone etc) you are left with LESS than 3 dollars a day for food. $3!

So, in an effort to draw awareness to the much needed reform of the welfare system in BC, the Raise the Rates challenge was created, asking people across BC to live for 1 week with the food budget of a single person on welfare. We’re not allowed to utilize food banks, or other charitable services, or use any items that were already in our pantry or fridge.

Being responsible for the food bank in our community, I see those who are struggling with this issue not just for a week, but for months on end. I know my 7 days is nothing compared to their struggle, but if I can add my voice to those across BC or if I can, through this, learn how to better serve our clients, then I will have accomplished something.

Tonight I took my $21 and went grocery shopping. The only things I knew were non negotiables for me were eggs and peanut butter. I figured if I had those protein items, I would be ok.

When we got to No Frills, the cheapest place to buy groceries up here, I started in the aisles. 1 Kiwi, 1 cucumber and I small pack of luncheon meat and I had already forgotten how much my total was. I doubled back to see how much everything I had picked up cost, and I started to second guess myself. What if it was more then $21 and I had to put items back? Were people wondering why I was weighing just one orange in the produce scale?

Bread, a sale on yogurt, a can of zoodles, 4 Mr. Noodles and I could see my numbers rounding up in my head. A carton of eggs, margarine, a can of corn, a can of chicken noodle soup, and I was keenly aware that the light basket and heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach meant that I was almost done my shopping. I headed to the peanut butter and couldn’t believe what I was seeing! the smallest cheapest jar of peanut butter was almost $4! My husband looked over the shelves and commented on the price of Nutella, something we usually don’t give a second thought to buying.

I decided to check out with the items I had and try next door at the Dollar Tree for peanut butter. When we got there, they were out of peanut butter. My plan for PB sandwiches to sustain me though lunch times was out the window. I picked up a pack of Kraft Dinner, one of those rice sidekicks and a jar of jam, and I’m left with $1.05 in case of emergency.

I’d already thought more about food then I had in a very long time. And on the way home, we stopped to pick up dinner. One Bento Box, Spring Rolls and a soda cost me $23.00. More then my entire budget for an entire week. It was a very hard meal… and lesson to swallow.

Over the next week and a bit (The challenge starts Nov 3rd), I’ll be blogging about my experience. Follow along as I and others across this province fight to bring attention to a broken system doing more to continue the cycle of poverty then break it.

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