Margaret Participates in Welfare-Rate Challenge
The Rev. Margaret Marquardt accepts the Welfare Challenge of living on $26.00 for the week for food. The week of Oct 14-23, 2013. This is what a person on Social Assistance receives weekly for food.
Read the Food Challenge Press Release (PDF) for more information.
This is a Vancouver Sun article. The food that Bill with Raise the Rates, (the rates of an individual on Social Assistance in BC) is putting out at the press conference earlier this week.
My food supply is lentils, rice, onions, bread, margarine, cottage cheese, a can of pineapple and milk. Each of us took the challenge to spend only $26.00 for food for the week. I did put money aside for coffee that I brew at home, and I am really glad I did. (I usually have a couple of cups a day). I know that I would have had a headache all week if I didn’t. Also, along with a two pieces of toast a day, I have the coffee to look forward to. There is not much food and it has to last for the week.
I have been on this challenge for this week of Oct. 14th and it goes into next week. I took the Challenge as a small way to be a neighbour. So I offer my insights as a way of understanding what people go through all the time.
There is not much food and there is little diversity. I bought the basics as I knew I could cook up lentils and rice, and it would be okay in terms of having enough energy to do my work. This is my offering of how I am being led to a greater understanding. First, there isn’t any money for fruit or fresh veggies. So even for the basics of what we think of in a balanced diet, there isn’t enough for these. I can eat rice and lentils for this week as I know I will be off this in a week, but those caught in the spiral of poverty and find themselves on Social Assistance, do not have this privilege. The other thing I noticed immediately is that it is very isolating. I used my $26.00 right away and bought the basics listed above. So I don’t have anything left. I can’t stop for coffee. I can’t invite a friend or colleague to meet me for coffee. I can see for myself if I was in this situation, that I would begin to withdraw very quickly. I wouldn’t want people to feel obliged to pay for my coffee or treat. Walking by a coffee shop or restaurant knowing that I am committed to not going in, and thinking about those on limited income all the time, I am reminded of a story in Luke’s gospel. It is called Lazarus and Dives (Lazarus the poor man and Dives the rich man) . Dives is eating and Lazarus is outside the gate. A great chasm exists between them. Dives who is inside eating a sumptuous meal is separated by a gate. Lazarus looks in. Dives turns away. Walking by a coffee shop, I do look in and think of all those who cannot go in.
I had the experience this week of a pre-arranged meeting at a coffee shop of someone that I had not met before. I had been in touch with her the previous week about a piece of work that she is engaged in that I am interested in and I wanted to know about her experience. She had kindly agreed to meet me at a coffee shop. She doesn’t know me, so she wouldn’t know that I would usually offer to buy coffee as she was being kind enough at the end of her work day to meet with me. So I met her and I told her that I was on this Challenge for the week. I apologized for not being able to offer her coffee or muffin etc. This might seem like a small thing. However, I do think it is important. It is about feeling that we are part of society and are able to give as well as receive. I am glad that I did not cancel the meeting as I think it is important for the experience of this week to have gone through that. As well, I very much appreciated the work of the person I met with and her sharing it with me.
I am also aware that I don’t have anything delicious to look forward to. There is little for breakfast. I do love rice and lentils so the nutritious food is fine. I am a vegetarian and have been so for many years. I have this for lunch and dinner. It is clear to me that this is all I could have day in and day out if I was limited to $26 a week. The only thing I could change would be another vegetable (this week I chose carrots). We are social people and we do like diversity of food and our bodies need the diversity. On this amount of money, you do not have enough to invite anyone over and the food is so basic that I wouldn’t want to do so. So I can see that this would be further isolating in that I would end up not extending hospitality to others.
I drink lots of water. I am also more tired than usual. My stomach aches at times as I know I have only so much food and it has to last for the week so I drink more water.
My family was poor when I was a child, and I have always had respect for the value of the dollar and at the same time, I have had work and a salary for many years. I have also worked closely with families on Social Assistance and seen up close the struggle they have monthly to survive. I am committed to justice in our society. We have become used to seeing people in food banks. There are ways that we can work towards justice so that those caught in the spiral of poverty have the kind of financial support needed and the social supports for those who are able to work. This is why the Challenge is part of Raise the Rates. It includes raising the rates for those on Social Assistance, increasing the minimum wage, greater support for employment training, a national policy regarding issues of poverty in Canada…I will write to you again about these if you would consider writing to our elected leadership in our Province and our country. Many folks are one pay check from Social Assistance. Anyone of us could lose our job and if we don’t have savings or after our savings are used up, this could be us. Those on Social Assistance are not them. They are us. We are all neighbours and what is happening to others in also ours to share.
Thank you for reading my offering. It is a small way to be a neighbour.
The Rev. Margaret Marquardt, St. Thomas Anglican Church, Vancouver