Jenny Kwan, Day 7

Welfare Food Challenge – My Reflections

It cannot be forgotten that each day, over 175,000 people in BC alone experience what each welfare food challenge participants went through this last week.

As a participant, each day, I go to bed hungry and, each morning, I wake up hungry. My hunger is never satisfied, as each ration is simply not enough. The only way to stop the hunger is to go to sleep.

I find myself obsessed with thinking about food. I constantly review how I might better ration my food so that my hunger could be stemmed. But soon, it became clear to me that I could not. Twenty-one dollars a week is simply not enough.

Throughout the course of the days, I found that my energy was low. There were times when I felt lightheaded and weak. I would often suffer from a low-grade headache. I get those headaches when I don’t eat. I was unable to follow my normal routine where I would work late into the quiet of the night. Since having children, I found my most productive uninterrupted hours are between 10 pm and 1 or 2 am. That’s when I would often catch up with emails and correspondence to constituents. I was unable to do that during the challenge, as all I wanted to do was curl up in bed and go to sleep. It was the only way to stop the hunger pains.

I also found myself wanting to withdraw from the people around me. I opted out of many social functions. For example, I chose not to join my colleagues for meals or coffee. It was simply too hard to have to sit and watch people eat and drink merrily. The smell of food was almost a form of torture.

And of course, there are times in life when you have to deal with the unexpected. On one of welfare food challenge days, I was travelling back from Ottawa to Vancouver. I had put my kiwi ration for the day in my purse and to my dismay, at the Toronto stop over; I discovered that my precious kiwi had turned into liquid in my plastic sandwich bag. I almost cried.

There is no question that if this went on longer, my health would suffer, both mentally and physically. I would live in social isolation. I would not want to get out of bed. What I don’t know is how desperate would I get.

I am so relieved that the Welfare Food Challenge is coming to an end for me but I can’t help but to wonder: what if this was my everyday reality? What if my children were hungry all the time? Just how would I cope?

It’s startling that in Canada, 19% of the children live in poverty, that’s 1.3 million children. In BC alone, that’s 170,000 children. It’s a myth to say that people choose to be on welfare. People don’t choose to live in poverty. Parents don’t choose to send his or her child to bed hungry. The majority of the people on income assistance are people with disabilities. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Bean counters will tell you that ending poverty cost $4 billion but not ending poverty costs $8 billion in health care and criminal justice costs and that’s not counting the human costs!

Think about it. BC is the only province without a poverty reduction strategy. Join me in telling Premier Christy Clark that it’s time to raise the rates! It’s time to raise minimum wages. Let’s end poverty now!

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