Budgeting for food is often a challenge for anyone making a decent wage, but doing it on $3 a day would seem impossible — yet that’s what those on welfare in B.C. are forced to do.
The welfare challenge was a province-wide initiative where participators spent one week, from Oct. 16 (Hunger Awareness Week) to Oct. 22, only eating the food they could buy with $21.
The amount of $21 for a week’s worth of food came from the expected food allowance remaining from a monthly welfare cheque of $610. Less rent ($450), room damage deposit ($20), book of 10 bus tickets ($21), cell phone ($21) and personal hygiene/laundry ($10). The remainder is $84 divided by four weeks: $21 per week.
Two local women, Tammy Battersby and Leda Leander, took up the challenge and struggled to do their regular jobs on their meager food allowance.
Both women are familiar with the difficulties of individuals and families who struggle with having enough money for food and other basic necessities. Battersby is the community care coordinator at the Gospel Chapel and organizes the community Christmas hamper program, while Leander is the executive director of Boundary Family and Individual Services Society.
“I put the welfare challenge out in the community,” said Leander. “I also said it wouldn’t be a very healthy thing to do for people with children living in their homes because it’s really, really difficult to feed children in a healthy manner based on the amount of money families receive on income assistance.”
The group putting on the welfare change is called Raise the Rates and they are dedicating to convincing the government to raise the income assistance rates in B.C.
“I saw that a celebrity (singer Bif Naked) was doing the challenge and I said, I need to do this,” said Battersby. “I was intrigued with this and read up on it. I give people hampers but I don’t really understand where they’re at or what they’re experiencing.”
Battersby said she has not received social assistance but has been broke before.
“It was a reminder: what are the people I’m seeing everyday experiencing?” she said. “It’s been awhile (since I’ve been broke) and it was a good reminder. I wanted to build my compassion.”
Battersby set aside the money she would have spent on food and donated it to the Christmas hamper program.
“I’ll be donating $150 to the program,” she said.
Leander said her challenge started slowly when she splurged for a loaf of sprouted grain bread.
“I only eat sprouted grain bread,” she said. “So I made a choice to buy a loaf. Luckily, it was on sale or I would’ve started. Right away, I spent a day and a half of my money on this one loaf. That was an incredible realization to me that something as simple as a loaf of bread might be the only type of food you can afford that day. After I spend that day and a half of food on that I thought what was I doing?”
Leander found herself eating a lot of carbohydrates which she normally doesn’t do.
Being celiac, Battersby wasn’t able to eat any carbs like pasta or bread.
“One day I had chick peas, lentils and a celery heart,” she said. “I chopped them up into a nice hummus and dipped celery in it. That was my day’s food.”
Leander said she after three or four days she didn’t feel hungry because she was eating a lot of carbs but didn’t feel well.
“I didn’t have a lot of the energy I typically have,” she said. “I couldn’t afford fresh fruit. I couldn’t afford most vegetables only the less expensive ones like root vegetables. I couldn’t afford leafy greens like spinach that I typically eat.”
Battersby found it difficult to concentrate at work with her limited food intake.
“I forgot three appointments,” she said. “I was spinning in my head. There were times when I didn’t manage the $3 well. But still I was so behind what my body needed to be balanced. I couldn’t think straight. I was making bad choices. It was really eye-opening.”
The idea of the challenge was to experience what the government thinks is enough to live on, said Battersby.
“It’s clearly not enough,” she said.
“I think of myself as a thrifty, careful spender,” said Leander. “Even being thrifty I did not have adequate nutrition for the week.”
For the pair, the challenge also drove home the need in the community for places like Whispers of Hope and the food bank.
They also agree that welfare rates need to rise.
“Give people enough money and resources that they can live functionally and be able to function,” said Battersby. “I would not have been able to job search that week. Forget it, I could barely do the job I have let alone react and interact with my family. Give people enough to live on and move forward.”
Leander added that she sees even more the need for people to be kind to those around them.
“If we have lots of apples on our trees invite the people down the road to come and pick some for their kids,” she said. “I believe people who live in poverty need the right to access education and good paying jobs and the nutrition they need to be healthy and vibrant.”
Christmas hamper program
The Christmas community hamper hands out more than 300 hampers throughout the Boundary from Christina Lake to Beaverdell.
Gospel Chapel organizes the hamper program with the help of several other community groups.
Applications started Monday and can be picked up at Whispers of Hope, community service providers, until Nov. 29, said Battersby. Applications can also be picked up at the Boundary Community Food Bank in Grand Forks on Nov. 4, 18 and 25; Evangel Chapel in Greenwood on Nov. 6 and 20; and The Bridge in Midway on Nov. 17.