Front commun pour la justice sociale
 
Common Front for Social Justice
 

Experience Hunger Project / Journal entries of participants

 

The Last Supper
Steve Berube, Riverview
Last night's meal was filled with laughter and the joy of seeing family from away. It was like a feast with more than enough delicious food to fill all who sat at the table. The food fuelled the conversation and the laughter. All of our spirits were lifted and our relationships were renewed and deepened.
I wonder what the evening would have been like if the meal would have come from the food bank? I want to believe everyone would have made the best of it. The reality is the meal wouldn't have happened. There wouldn't have been enough food for guests. The table would have been empty. All would have walked away hungry. Who would want to suffer this kind of shame and indignity in front of visitors?
I appreciate the generosity of those who give to the food bank. I really appreciate those who work there. But, I wonder why in a country as rich as Canada we have come to rely on food banks? The first in Canada was created by churches about 30 years ago in Halifax. Now, they exist across the country in communities large and small because our governments seem to have realized that they can ignore the needs of the least and the last while giving tax breaks to those who are at the upper end of the income scale.
A study in 2005 showed that Canadians in the top one percent of income earners were paying a lower tax rate than those at the bottom of the income scale (1). I suspect that in the years since the divide has grown even wider between the rich and the poor. After all, tax cuts have increased for those at the top end and the social safety net has grown even more frayed.
Now, I leave to go pick up my food hamper for the next three days.
(1) Eroding Tax Fairness: Tax Incidence in Canada 1990 to 2005. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
8:00AM / Contribution to the Diary
Tom Mann, Executive Director, NB Union
Today I join the ranks of over 18,500 New Brunswickers who go to a food bank every month. I am nervous, anxious and feel a little embarrassed. Not sure what to expect and wondering if I really have to go. Is there another way that I can participate to heighten public awareness? It is alarming that so many citizens of the province living in poverty have jobs.
9:30AM / Contribution to the Diary
Tom Mann, Executive Director, NB Union
A beautiful September morning. More July, less autumn. Arrived at the Fredericton Food Bank to receive a tour and be screened and entered into their system. The staff and workers were extremely warm and concerned with the "community" that they assist. I was offered budgeting assistance. A single person should have a $299.54 food budget a month. How can a person?
Elizabeth Crawford, the Executive Director, provided me with a tour of the process at the Fredericton Food Bank. The Bank is a smooth running operation. Not a square inch of space or a second of time was wasted.
The doors opened at 10:00am with the regular recipients lining up at the door. They came to the Food Bank, located in a residential area in downtown Fredericton (on the hill), by foot, bike, public transit and car.
I received a ticket for a one time three day hamper of food. Once receiving my hamper through a basement window, I was offered a small basket of vegetables,(two carrots, 2 potatoes, and one onion) from a very charitable citizen out of the back of her truck. She was a "graduate" of the program. When I returned to work and "showed off" my hamper to my colleagues, many were shocked that so many New Brunswickers are forced to rely on food banks and "charity" to eke out an existence. Pictures were taken to take home to show the kids.
12:15PM / Contribution to the Diary
Tom Mann, Executive Director, NB Union
Arrived at the Fredericton Community Kitchen. The size of the room surprised me, small and windowless. I was surprised to learn that 120 dinners were served in a 75 minute period on Sunday night. A mixture of street people, seniors on a small and fixed income and a young family filled the cramped quarters. How did these people find themselves here? The volunteers were kind and non-judgmental. In speaking to the diners, some were not down on their luck - they simply had no luck. Others were trying to stretch their limited resources. Some wanted to share their story, others sat alone in silence. The meal was warm and served with a smile.
5:00PM / Dignity vs. the Growling Tummy
Steve Berube, Riverview
If there is such a thing as a good time to go to the food bank, this is it! There were potatoes, spaghetti squash, cabbage, carrots, sweet potatoes and green tomatoes. The fresh food being offered left me feeling relieved knowing I wouldn't be eating Kraft Dinner for three days.
But - what do you do with a spaghetti squash if you have never cooked one before?
Food banks are not an easy issue to deal with. Those who contribute food or who volunteer or work there do so out of compassion. But why do they exist in a society as wealthy as ours?
While I was registering, I wondered how gut wrenching it would be to have to confess to a stranger that I wasn't able to make it on my own? How embarrassing would it be to be seen by someone who knew me?
When I was picking up my food I felt incredibly self conscious. People were watching me and I was anxious about what they might be thinking. Was I taking more than I should? Were my choices good ones?
It is hard to walk this road that so many in New Brunswick must go down.
As I walked out the front door with my bags of food, I slipped my clerical collar back on. That way the strangers who I saw in the parking lot wouldn't think that I needed help.
Food banks, I suspect, can unintentionally - but easily - take away self esteem and rob you of your dignity in return for quieting the noise in an empty stomach.
6:00PM / Contribution to the Diary
Tom Mann, Executive Director, NB Union
My dinner choice from the food hamper was a can of "Sloppy Joe" over a hamburger bun with a cup of canned fruit for dessert with a cup of tea.
I imagined how the people I met at the Food Bank in the morning were making their dinner choices from their food hampers. Their surroundings, their thoughts of the day and plans for tomorrow. Two individuals were out of work, hoping for a break through. "Even a minimum wage job" she said would be a dream. "But I would still need Food Bank!"
Why is this expectation o.k. in this province? A province as affluent as ours.
More tomorrow.
Experiment Hunger Project Day 1
Marilyn Quinn, President of the NB Nurses Union
I agreed to participate in the project and today was my visit to the food bank for my food pick up and then to the soup kitchen for lunch. I felt uneasy and unsure of what to expect. I was familiar with both places as I had made donations in the past but today I saw it with new eyes.
The volunteers made everyone feel comfortable and accepted. There was amazing organization that goes on behind the scenes to make sure everyone who shows up gets food. I experienced the screening interview process and got my ticket and went outside to go to the little window where you bend down to pass in your ticket and was greeted by a friendly face who passed me my food.
I received enough food for 3 to 5 days. While it lacked fresh fruit and vegetables it was easy to see that great efforts had been taken to make sure it was a balanced diet, Protein: peanut butter, tuna fish, Starch: pasta and bread, fresh milk, eggs and canned fruit. No easy feat when you rely on donations.
At the soup kitchen I went in feeling like I needed to explain why I was there but quickly understood it didn't matter what brought me there. I was welcome, they were friendly and smiled and more interested if I enjoyed my lunch. I chatted with several people, all who spoke highly about the quality of the food. I was struck by the numbers who need and depend on the food bank every month or the soup kitchen for a hot meal. This is a 3 day project or experiment for me but for far too many people in New Brunswick it is their reality.
I am relieved that this support and help is there for people in need, either on social assistance, unemployed or underemployed but I question, are we doing enough?
9:00PM / The Harding family
Sandy Harding, Saint John, President of CUPE local 2745 - Educational Support Staff
Our first day on the Experiencing Hunger Project certainly came with concern and challenges. The food was very sparse for a family of 6 and it is clear it will take careful planning and portion control to make the food last and even then I am concern it won't last the 3 days.
The lack of bread and fresh milk, fruit and vegetables adds to the challenges in planning meals and making lunches for the 3 children who attend school. I found myself sending flakes of ham with 5 crackers each for their lunch along with a cookie and some dry cereal to snack on. There was no juice so they had to bring water in containers from home to drink.
I felt very concerned and anxious about making the food last for the children's lunches that I was actually counting the crackers and rationed them to 5 each in order to make them last for the 3 days of lunches as this will be the substitute for bread. I felt very sad about this. There also was one box of cookies, which I counted and rationed for the children and we will have enough for 2 each day for the children and my husband and I will not eat them.
My youngest son Jack had food allergies and it is extremely challenging to feed him. We managed today but I am not sure that he will be able to eat well for the 3 days.
My children said that they were hungry in school and that they missed bread, fresh milk and fruit in their lunch. They also missed juice both in the morning and in their lunch.
I made spaghetti for supper and my husband and I made sure the children ate first until they were full and then we shared what was left which wasn't very much.
Daniel Legere
President, CUPE - SCFP - NB
Well I got Day one in. After picking up my food and doing interviews I realized that my fries and small pieces of chicken had melted. So I rushed to the office to get them into the freezer to refreeze.
Then turned my mind to lunch, I had skipped breakfast and was quite hungry. After looking through my bag I decided on a can of beans and toast. After microwaving the beans and figuring out how to make the toaster oven toast. I had my lunch. It was filling.
By the time I got home last night my fries and chicken pieces had melted again so I quickly got them back into the freezer. Then it was time to think of supper! I laid out my provisions and tried the figure out what I was going to eat when.
I decided on spaghetti squash and some spaghetti sauce from that dented can. Well it looked great till my first bite, the sauce was extra hot. My normal choice for any sauce is mild all the way. Given I was quite hungry and didn't have food to waste I ate it anyway.
Last night was difficult, although I was hungry there wasn't anything in my box that I felt like eating. So I went to bed a bit hungry. I did not sleep well last night my stomach was bothered by the sauce.
Now I am thinking of breakfast and what to pack for lunch!
7:40AM
Zane Korytko, CEO, YMCA, Moncton
Upon receiving the allotment of food for the three days, I was humbled because I received more food than the other participants. Feeding a family of 5 will be a challenge. My wife Ana and I placed all the food on the kitchen counter and started looking for ways to combine items to make meals. Our girls, Sarah 16, Caroline 14 and Alexia 12 looked over the food and planned out what they could have for breakfast and lunch. It struck us that there was limited fresh food and we looked at creative ways to make meals that were both nutritious and filling.
Our initial reaction is how can families eat healthy with food from a food bank? We have all seen our food bills increase over the past year and I wonder how people on social assistance or making minimum wage can afford to eat healthy? The new provincial wellness program is focusing on being physically active and encouraging New Brunswickers to get moving... my comment is eating healthy and being physical active should go hand in hand. If you cannot have access to healthy affordable food, how motivated are you to get moving?
Today is our first day of eating what we received and we will visit the soup kitchen for lunch. More to follow.
8:35AM
Randy Hatfield, Coordinator, Saint John Human Development Council
It's hard to know where to start in this report of the first day of "Experiencing Hunger". It all started when the Common Front asked if I asked if I would participate, along with others, in a three day project that involved living on food bank rations and reporting on the experience. While I don't believe that you always have to "live the experience" in order acquire an understanding of - or empathy for - a situation, the project was described as an "awareness event" and I believe that there is a lot of merit in that. Besides, I have worked at the Human Development Council for a number of years and have been able to research and analyze poverty related issues through a number of lenses. Food security is a subject that was familiar to me.
I had never walked into a food bank as a client, though. Whenever I needed food, I went to a store, made my choices, paid for them and left. This was different. There was a counter separating me from the food. I couldn't pick out items. There was no choice. I received my "hamper" (a couple of heavy bags).
I had read that food banks were seldom in a position to distribute fresh fruits and vegetables. This was no exception to the general rule. I was provided with a few perishable items: margarine, eggs and sour cream. Frozen items included French fries, spring rolls and pizza.
I go to Farmer's Markets and participate in a local program to buy a "produce pack" weekly from a local producer. So I know the cost of fresh vegetables and fruits. There is no way a person on social assistance could afford that type of food bill. Now I know first hand that food banks don't fill that hole in a person's diet. It's sinking in that low income New Brunswickers can't/don't have access to fresh food.
6:30PM
Steve Berube, Riverview
It's not about food. It's about focus.
As I look over the food I received yesterday and as I thought about the experience a simple phrase came to mind, "It's not about food. It's about focus."
I went to the Karing Kitchen for lunch today. The food filled my stomach. But the stories of the people filled me with pain.
I heard of broken relationships and lost dreams. I was surprised by how many lives seemed to have gone sideways for a variety of reasons. First was a younger man who kept checking his phone hoping to hear from his girlfriend who threw him out because of his addiction problems. Then there was an older man whose life fell apart after he lost his job because of cancer. Next came a woman who was verbally and emotionally abused during her childhood. Addictions, illness and abuse all causes of poverty - not laziness.
What surprised me the most was the mix of ages. I shouldn't have been surprised by the babies and pre-schoolers - but I was. I shouldn't have been surprised by the number of seniors - but I was.
My stomach was filled but my soul was wounded.
6:30PM
Marilyn Quinn, Fredericton
Well I am almost finished day 2. The supper of tuna and pasta from last night provided enough for my lunch to take to the office today. Instant Oatmeal for breakfast and peanut butter on crackers for a snack has left me wondering what I will make for supper tonight. I am certainly not hungry but I do miss the usual amount of fresh fruit and vegetables that I take for granted not to mention Tim's Coffee. I can make an omelette or soup for tonight knowing I would have to be far more creative if these ingredients are to make meals for 3 to 5 days or if I was feeding a family. I must remember to make something for my lunch to bring to the forum in Moncton tomorrow. It certainly requires more planning ahead.
Looking forward to hearing everyone's experience.
7:00PM / Contribution to the Diary
Tom Mann, Executive Director, NB Union
After a long day on the road with back to back meetings in Saint John I find myself, as never before, overly focused on what to prepare for supper.
I realize that with the privilege of not having to restrict my choice from a food basket, I was never as preoccupied with what to eat. Typically I would graze for food - some nuts or crackers with cheese to address my appetite wile I decided what to prepare for supper.
With a limited supply, the decision became more urgent. I did have some zucchini bread that was provided in the food basket, which allowed me to then have a tuna sandwich with tomato soup.
9:00PM
David Coon, Executive Director of the Conservation Council of NB
David and his family has started Tuesday
Day One - I rushed out of the house without making my lunch. What to do? I settled on going to the soup kitchen, but was unable to get there so had to wait until I got home to eat from our hamper at supper. Good thing I took the time this morning to have some cereal - just wish I had boiled up one of our eggs instead.
9:00PM
Zane Korytko, CEO, YMCA, Moncton
We have finished our first day of food from the YMCA Food Bank. I have asked my family to write their comments & impressions on how the first day went:

Caroline Korytko Age 14: I found this day interesting! I am not used to not having any fresh fruit or vegetables but the hardest thing that I couldn't have was milk. At some point in the morning I was hungry but unlike other days when I know that I have snacks in my lunch box, I knew that I had one for lunch and my snack time. At lunch we went to eat at a soup kitchen but I was limited to what I could eat because I have Celiac Disease. So I picked at the rice and veggies. What I find hard is not being able to just say I am hungry and get something out of the kitchen, now I have to think "Is there going to be enough for the next three days?" But so far the experience has been enriching!

Alexia Korytko Age 12: I started the day with a slice of bread, but then I wanted a second slice but the I said "Is there going to be enough for the next 3 days", so I took canned pineapple. At school I started to get hungry just at the first period!But so far I've enjoyed the experience!!!!

Sarah Korytko Age 16: When my dad asked us if we wanted to do this challenge, I couldn't wait to get started. We got a lot of crackers and cookies but I'm not a big fan of those kind of stuff. I was surprised that there was no fruit or milk. That is probably what I miss the most. I got a little hungry this morning before lunch but my dad was going to pick us up to go to the soup kitchen. The lunch there was pretty good. Not exactly what you would consider a "healthy" lunch but it was filling and appetizing. I didn't get hungry until right before supper. Normally I'm used to getting something out of the fridge when I get hungry but it's not possible to do it before most of the stuff that we have are in cans. I am enjoying the challenge so far!

Overall our first day as a family was extremely interesting. We had a great discussion at the dinner table about how difficult it is for people who are on limited incomes to make ends meet and to be able to afford nutritious food. I am interested to see what tomorrow will bring.
Daniel Legere
President, CUPE - SCFP - NB
I got day two in, breakfast was two toast with mystery butter. Lunch was at the soup kitchen along with Michel Boudreau thanks to James for walking us through. I found this a very uncomfortable experience but once into it did not fell I was being judged as I expected. I felt more judged by the stares from patrons of the Y as I walked out with my food from the food bank. On the menu was fries and sloppy joe.
I got a bit of a surprise at supper I thought I was making fries and chicken fingers but the fingers were not chicken but jalapeno peppers that I really can't eat. So I opened one of the two cans of gravy I received and had fries and gravy for supper.
Lots of carbs and fats very little protein no vegetables, fruits or dairy today.
11:00PM
The Harding family
Another very challenging day participating in the Experiencing Hunger Project, with regards to having enough food to feed our family. I found myself again rationing crackers and cookies in order to make them last.
The children came home "starving" from school and I had supper earlier than normal in order to calm their rumbling tummies.
Tonight we had 1 box of Kraft Dinner and 1 can of baked beans and a can of yellow beans for supper - this for a family of 6. Again we fed the children first to make sure they had enough and there was a little left for myself but my husband had to have a can of soup for his supper.
I am out of canned meat for the children's lunches and will be sending canned soup in thermoses tomorrow along with 5 crackers each, 2 cookies and water in a drinking container. I was given a small jar of peanut butter but because of allergy restrictions at school they are not able to bring that as part of their lunch.
I found myself rationing the remaining dry cereal so it will due as a snack in their lunch and last for one more breakfast, but there will be small bowls of cereal for tomorrow morning. The powdered milk is nearly gone and the children not able to drink milk with their supper in order to save the children's cereal in the morning.
We are certainly running out of food fast and will have to eat at a soup kitchen tomorrow night for supper.
11:00PM / Experience Hunger Day 2 - Stigma
Randy Hatfield, Coordinator, Saint John Human Development Council
I am grateful for the messages of support and encouragement, particularly from people who have had to use food banks in the past. Judging from the reaction - most favourable, some not - I'd say that the Common Front's desire of increasing awareness is having some success.
How did I manage today? Well, more cereal for breakfast and a few biscuits and crackers over the morning.
I had lunch at Romero House, Saint John's soup kitchen. It's open 365 days a year. The founder, Carolyn McNulty, has a ground level corner office and keeps an eye on activity with her two year old dog, Rudy. Her passion and commitment have not waned. It wasn't too busy when I arrived and we had a chance to talk. She's as determined and focussed as ever. Lunch was spaghetti, white bread, fruit cocktail and ice cream. Romero House is just one of many resources in our community working to meet the food needs of low income residents. A comprehensive list of Adult Food Resources is found on the HDC website here.
Supper was a repeat from last night - pizza, fries and kidney beans. I still have soup, stew, beans and eggs.
There has been a fair amount of media attention on the project and I hope that the provincial forum in Moncton on Wednesday will add further awareness to the issues surrounding food security. One of them is the stigma attached to people who use food banks and soup kitchens.
I did not find walking into the food bank on Charlotte St. an empowering experience. I was there to get, not to give. But what struck me the most (other than the physical setup - the counter - which I wrote about yesterday) was the camaradie of the unpaid workers. These volunteers worked well together. Some of the words that come to mind in describing them are: genuine, worldly, empathic, Christian, relentless and practical. In fact, most food bank volunteers are the kind of people I'd like to have for neighbours.
I met with representatives from nine food banks from District 4 last week and the conversation touched on a number of subjects, ranging from the increasing demand on their services to the quality of the food. They also talked about:
  • The politics of food banks (yes, there's politics in everything and this group was not immune from the virus). The province's decision to make a "forgivable" loan of over $500,000 to a distribution centre in Moncton provoked some spirited discussion;
  • The trade off between food bank autonomy/independence and centralization;
  • How to ensure that "abuse" of food banks is minimized;
  • Whether a computerized system should be employed to prevent people from using more than one food bank (which prompted the man next to me to say that if people are hungry, they should be fed. Period!)
That's a sampling of opinion from inside the food bank.
Outside, it's something else. Earlier this year the Salvation Army launched an initiative, The Dignity Project and released data to illustrate public perceptions of poverty and the poor. Among its disturbing findings was the following:
  • About 50% of Canadians feel that a family of four could get by on $10,000 - $30,000 per year or less;
  • Nearly half of all Canadians feel that if poor people really want to work, they can always find a job;
  • 43% agreed that "a good work ethic is all you need to escape poverty";
  • About a quarter of Canadians feel that people are poor because that are lazy and have lower moral values than average;
  • 41% believe that the poor would "take advantage" of any assistance given and "do nothing";
These are troubling statistics. They should cause us all to examine our beliefs, values and prejudices.
As income and wealth inequality increases, as our economy continues to produce winners and losers and as the politics of fear become more acceptable we have to fight the temptation to stereotype and stigmatize.
Wednesday is the final day of the project. I'm looking forward to meeting the other participants and hearing their thoughts. I hope that heightened awareness will lead to action. There has to be a better way...
7:00AM / Contribution to the Diary
Tom Mann, Executive Director, NB Union
Never thought about the cost of poverty to New Brunswick until reading it in black and white last night.
The CCPA study is excellent. I think it is an appropriate time to extend to the decision makers, Minister/Deputy/Senior Administrators of the Departments of Health and Social Development "Experience Hunger".
It is high time to stop the culture that we are to cut costs to start the economy, and to begin investing in the citizens of our province who are living and working in poverty.
My breakfast today: two pieces of toast with peanut butter.
Day #3
Marilyn Quinn, President of the NB Nurses Union
I think overall the 3 day project gave us a very small peak into the reality for thousands of men, women and children who live in poverty in this province. We are not experts and we don't presume to pretend we know what it is like to live in poverty. We know it was only an experiment but what we learned is very real. The challenges are numerous. It complicates life on all levels. It affects a person's entire life. What we know is that food banks and soup kitchens are designed to be temporary measures. What is really needed is food security and diets that promote healthy minds and bodies with adequate nutrition, vitamins, minerals and nutrients that allow people to achieve their full potential. This mandate goes beyond the purpose of a food bank or a soup kitchen and requires a change in policy. The inequity between the rich and the poor is far too great. All people deserve to live with dignity and it will take all citizens in this province to end poverty. Poverty has a cost for individuals, communities and society. We will be a better province when we all exert enough political pressure to have government create better policy to improve social assistance and the minimum wage and take the necessary steps to end poverty. We all have a part to play.
10:00PM
Daniel Legere, President, CUPE - SCFP - NB
Well day 3 is done will have eggs for breakfast tomorrow. Today I had crackers and mystery butter for breakfast. Knew I would be at the Provincial Forum and would not have access to a microwave so I opened my can of tuna and was prepared with two nice tuna sandwiches for lunch.
What I did not plan for was being in the office until 9:30 tonight. Thanks to my very kind partner I had my last meal delivered by her to the office. Under normal circumstances I would have grabbed a sub or something.
The exercise was a very humbling one for me, it let me open the door of poverty a small crack and look inside. It will be a long time before I take my ability to eat what I want when I want for granted.
I do want to return to the soup kitchen and spend a day serving a meal to those who accepted me unconditionally yesterday.
On Saturday I am attending a Union BBQ in Sussex were participants are being asked to bring something for the local food bank, when I pack my bag I will do it with a whole new perspective.
The Harding family
Sandy Harding, Saint John, President of CUPE local 2745 - Educational Support Staff
This, our final day of the Experiencing Hunger Project was certainly our most challenging. The children's lunches were meagre again with sending soup in a thermos (1 small can split 3 ways), 3 crackers, 1 cookie and some dry cereal for snack.
This morning we ran out of cereal and had to reallocate what little that was left between the 4 children whose portions ended up to be about 1/3 of a cup each. We were also on the last of our powdered skim milk which I had to add extra water to in order to make it stretch for all 4 bowls of cereal. Again for the 3rd morning in a row, my husband and I did not eat breakfast.
My children were looking forward to eating at a soup kitchen for their supper as they believed this would be a good meal. It turned out that the soup kitchen in our area stops serving food at 1:00 pm. We would have to eat the last of our food from our food basket for supper.
Our supper consisted of oatmeal, 1 can of cream corn and 1 small can of vegetable soup. My children were certainly hungry. We had eaten all the food in our basket with the exception of 1 can of evaporated milk.
The thing that truly bothered me was that my children were hungry at school. My daughter made the comment that she had are hard time reading her book during silent reading time because her stomach was growling.
My son, who was very disappointed about not eating at the soup kitchen this evening, keenly observed that it didn't make sense that the soup kitchen did not serve supper because kids are in school all day so how would they get to eat there.
This was an eye opening experience for my family and one we will never forget. It is unconscionable that people in New Brunswick go hungry on a daily basis and many of them children. I believe that parents do the best with what they have but it certainly is not enough and we need to do better through poverty reduction initiatives. Increasing Social Assistance and the Minimum wage is a must and cannot wait!
I also firmly believe that we need better nutrition programs in schools (i.e. breakfast, snack and lunch programs) to address issues of hungry children.
Day 3 - The Forum and Moving Forward
Randy Hatfield, Coordinator, Saint John Human Development Council
Day 3 finished with the provincial forum in Moncton. "Poverty Hunger Poor Health" was the name of the informative and well attended event. The Moncton Lions Club was full. I was asked to fill in for Denis Losier on a panel of four "Experience Hunger" participants. It was a treat to share some thoughts and reflections with Estelle Lanteigne, David Coon and Marilyn Quinn. The session was moderated by Steve Berube, a United Church minister in Riverview. The panel, all of us solidly middle class, spoke of our experiences and touched on stigma, the need to carefully plan meals and the quality of the food.
There were a lot of familiar faces in the crowd. Sisters Angie and Roma from the Sisters of Charity, Lyn King and Beth McCullough from the Urban Core Support Network, Bill Bastarache and Sue O'Neill (accompanied by two fellow employees) from John Howard. People living in poverty, government officials, labour organizers, the acting Leader of the Official Opposition, non-profit organizations like Moncton's United Way and some Common Front members rounded out the hall.
Just before lunch (a tuna sandwich on half a sub roll and some crackers that I brought from home) we were presented with a new report, "Public Costs of Poverty" by Christine Saulnier. The Director of the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives walked us through her research that concluded that the direct cost of poverty is approximately half a billion dollars and that for society overall, the cost approaches two billion dollars. It was released yesterday and covered in the TJ. According to the article, the methodology was accepted by economist David Murrell of UNB. Now we've got the numbers! We have another report making a compelling case to reduce poverty.
The afternoon saw Martine Blanchard, journalist at Radio-Canada, moderate a panel of four representing the voices of people experiencing hunger. The testimonials were raw, personal and moving.
Next, Sister Cormier (she is the founder of the Centre for Food Research and is Director of the School of Nutrition and Family Studies at the University of Moncton) showed the relationship between malnutrition and health. Using a minimum wage of $9.50 and the generous assumption of 40 hours of paid work each week, she showed the amounts that would have to be squeezed from a food budget to get families' budgets to balance. It was a stark picture for low income New Brunswickers. And even more dire for those on social assistance. Squeezing the food budget leads to poor nutrition, which leads to poor health. The dots of the conference's theme connected!
The day finished with small group discussions concerned with generating actions to bring about change. I had an opportunity to facilitate a group looking at what actions would reduce prejudices toward the poor. In short order the table recommended mixed income housing, replacing stigmatizing vouchers with prepaid debit cards, and addressing the zero tolerance attitudes of some employers toward those with a criminal record. This was one of the few forums I have attended where the crowd didn't start to thin out after lunch. Participants were committed and engaged.
The Common Front for Social Justice deserves a lot of credit for organizing the event. I sensed that people left feeling that the forum was worthwhile.
An explanation of the issues surrounding the use, need and future of food banks can be a simple matter - or it can be complicated. I'll leave the complicated analysis for a later date, when some of my encounters and thoughts over the last few days have had a chance to sink in.
In the meantime, we already know that there are several actions that can make a difference. We know that community kitchens, community gardens and food purchasing clubs can improve people's nutritional needs. They work. These are food security actions that we can build on right now.
The simple analysis of the issue is this: people use food banks because they don't have enough money to buy the food they need. It's a matter of income inadequacy. Fixing this economic shortfall will take solid leadership and resolve. Ultimately, a solution will involve improved social assistance rates and a living wage. The province's poverty reduction strategy needs to take heed.
7:40AM
Zane Korytko, CEO, YMCA, Moncton
We finished day two of our food allotment and are now entering day three. The children were complaining of being tired and losing some focus at school. This morning was challenging because of the limited offerings. I have found that the mornings pose the biggest challenge for me, my concentration is off and I tend to lose focus easily. I reflect on the challenge that a family must face when they have limited means and must find ways to make ends meet. I have given thought to how all agencies and various levels of government can make more of an impact on the recipients of food banks. Can the dairy board, provincial government and food banks work out a way to supply milk and dairy products on a regular basis? What other partnerships could exist if we could all work together? I am looking forward to the end of this challenge, having only experienced three days. More on our final day tomorrow.
Over or Just Beginning?
Steve Berube, Riverview
The three days of eating only from the hamper have ended for me. For me, it wasn't a great hardship. I am in reasonably good health and have no dietary restrictions. Also, I have more than enough body fat to live off of.
I am even more thankful for the generosity of those who contribute food, money or time to food banks and soup kitchens. I am thankful for the journalists who have followed this project and asked more than superficial questions. I appreciate the courage of those who live in poverty sharing their stories with me and many others.
Poverty need not exist in this province or country. We have more than enough so that all can live in dignity. We need to begin to think outside of the box to find ways to deal with this scourge.
I realize I am beginning to move into an area where I can begin to get myself into trouble. I recognize the truth stated by Archbishop Dom Helder Camara, "When I fed the poor, they call me a saint. When I asked why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist."
First and foremost we need to ask ourselves what kind of a society do we truly want. One where all can live in dignity or one where we don't care about the least, the last and the lost?
For the last 30 years the social safety net has been eroded because of governmental economic policies that focussed on voodoo economics. Making the rich richer will not increase economic prosperity for all. Cutting corporate taxes has not resulted in the working class and those who live in poverty being better off.
Also, about 30 years ago, churches in Halifax started Canada's first food bank. Perhaps we will come to recognize like with residential schools in our rush to help we have created severe unintended, long term consequences.
The direct cost of poverty in New Brunswick per year is approximately half a BILLION dollars per year based on the just released study by Dr. Christine Saulnier. Perhaps this information is shocking enough to make politicians sit up and take notice. I hope it will, but will it???