Pudding and Salsa

ID-100368725Food banks are a great resource for those living on limited to no extra funds after rent and other life necessities are paid for. And, although I feel bad about even being picky from receiving donated food, these suggestions could make a world of difference:

  1. Think about the meals people will be eating from the food you’re providing. Pudding is great as a treat, but salsa with nothing to dip into it is depressing.
  2. Not all people on limited incomes have a place to cook their meals. Providing items that are easy to heat up is ideal.
  3. Some people may not have access to a fridge or freezer, so frozen items only work for those people who have the luxury of cold storage.
  4. Fresh items such as fruit, vegetables and bread are always welcome. A limited income makes it difficult to eat healthy.
  5. If you’re providing the bags the food is in, please make them durable for all kinds of weather. You may remember my trip a few years back to the food bank where they gave me paper bags which broke apart as I got off the bus in the rain. Encourage people to bring their own bags.
  6. Provide recipe suggestions for items given, especially if it’s not apparent which items go together. For example, pasta and sauce make sense, but coconut milk, apples and bread make less sense. Supercook provides recipe suggestions from ingredients you’ve included, but not everyone has access to a computer at home.

Anyone can get to a point where they need the support of a food bank or soup kitchen. It’s not only income assistance and disability recipients in the lines. Often it’s single parents, students and the elderly. Poverty does not discriminate.

Image courtesy of jk1991 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Random acts of kindness

ID-100141040Random acts of kindness come in many shapes and sizes. Some people like to be acknowledged for their good deeds while others prefer to remain anonymous.

I’ve heard people say they wish they had the money to help out. And sure, money can help non profit organizations buy the supplies they need to support their clients. Kind actions, however, cost nothing and mean everything to the recipient.

Holding the door open for someone with their hands full is a random act of kindness. Filling your parking meter as you leave so the next driver doesn’t have to dig around for change is a random act of kindness. Buying a homeless person an umbrella to stay dry from the rain is a random act of kindness.

A few years ago, a friend at work said to me “Can I see you for a sec?” I followed her outside to her truck parked nearby. She slid the door open and presented me with a box full of food goodies. A huge package of fresh chicken, tasty mixes for dips, chocolate, oatmeal packs, sweet baby peppers, organic pasta. I was moved to tears.

“Oh my god, you didn’t have to do this” I sobbed, thinking I was SO glad she’d done it. It was too good to be true! “Of course I did,” she replied. “I was raised by a single mom too and remember the hard times. It’s the least I could do.”

My daughter and I oohed and ahhed over the surprise box of food. We felt rich as we added the sun-dried tomato pesto to our organic pasta. We slowly savoured the chocolate. We made that food last as long as we possibly could.

About a year later, my roommate brought home a friend who had run out of food and was on income assistance. I quickly packed a cloth bag with half a chunk of cheese, apples, bananas, bread and peanut butter. He was apologetically grateful. I was finally able to pay it forward.

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsapreator at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Suck it up, buttercup!

gubgibYears ago, every time I’d complain about something, the guy I was dating would say “suck it up, buttercup.” Needless to say, the relationship didn’t last very long.

But the saying came to mind as I was busy doing chores that I normally avoid so that I could delay my first visit to the food bank. Although the result of my efforts would mean I’d have food to feed my daughter for the week, the journey itself and all that it stood for certainly challenged my desire to follow through.

One of the only smart things I did that day was to call to ask if I needed to bring my own bags. If I remember to, I am one of those people who takes cloth bags or a knapsack grocery shopping. Not only is it better for the environment, but it’s generally easier to carry food in sturdy bags rather than plastic bags.

The person who answered the phone said that many people bring their own bags, but that yes, they did provide bags. Against my better judgement, I decided not to bring my own bags. So off I set for the bus. Which I missed by a minute. In the pouring rain. But at least I had remembered to bring my umbrella.

Like the Salvation Army, each food bank depot can only be visited twice a year or once every 6-months. Food banks do have weekly depots scattered throughout each community, but the combination of being overweight and standing in a food lineup was something I had yet to overcome and so to the main depot I went.

The depot for Vancouver is located in an industrial area on the border between East Vancouver and the Downtown Eastside. It’s a solid 3-blocks from the bus stop bordering a park with less-than-desirable activities occurring at night. The building itself is unassuming and reminded me of an old post office.

Getting off the bus with three other people, one of whom was pulling a suitcase, I knew my decision to not bring my own bags had been a mistake. I was relieved to see other people, as I was unsure of the process. My Google street-view research hadn’t shown which door to enter.  As I got closer, a sporadic stream of people, mostly women my age, came out of the food bank loaded with obviously heavy cloth bags.

Upon entering, it did initially feel like a bank of sorts. There was a small waiting area and a sign on a chair (acting as a line) asking people to respect others’ privacy. To the left, there were three baskets and a note underneath offering to take 1 drink and 1 snack per person. The snack options were apples or a variety of granola and cereal bars. At first I didn’t take anything and then finally I grabbed a water and a granola bar. Who was I kidding? I was at the food bank because I needed food.

Ten minutes later, I was trying to figure out how I was going to carry two heavily-loaded paper bags (the kind with the entwined string handles), a plastic bag full of onions, potatoes, beets and apples and my umbrella. It was still raining heavily. I opted to leave the plastic bag behind, dropped my wet umbrella into one of the bags and headed back to the bus stop. Where I missed the bus by seconds.

As I was getting off the bus, I was thinking how horrible it would be if one of the bags broke. And guess what? That’s exactly what happened. Waiting to cross the road and just 3-blocks from my house, the paper bag that had my wet umbrella in it broke open from the bottom. Cans rolled in all directions.

While people waiting to cross the road in both directions stared yet did not offer to help, I frantically sifted through my options. Wasn’t it humiliating enough that I had to go to the food bank? Apparently not. The phrase “suck it up, buttercup” popped into my head again. I somehow managed to scoop up the bag and made it to the bus stop I’d just got off at. It was 2:48pm.

If I’d had my daughter with me, she could have run across the street to the gas station on the corner to get some plastic bags or even home to pick up some cloth bags. But she was at school. Thankfully, she always calls me as she’s leaving, so I was able to get her to come to the bus stop with some bags and we made it home just an hour after my debaucle.

I don’t know how people make it through life without a sense of humour. Honestly, I think that’s what keeps me going most of the time. That, and my daughter. That, and my daughter and the right to lead a life of dignity regardless of whether I went to the grocery store or the food bank to feed my family for the week.

Food as a drug

KittisakPoverty strips you of any unhealthy habits you’ve previously had the privilege of indulging in.

With my astrological sign being Libra, I’m surprised it’s taken me so long to find a balance between the many aspects of my life. My current challenges make that crystal clear.

The two things I’ve been struggling with for most of my life, which are more prevalent today than any time before, are food and money. Both are essential to survive in my part of the world and yet both carry such emotional weight for me.

Food is the key to survival. It is a basic need. It can be used for pleasure or pain, overindulgence or deprivation. However, in today’s society of large portions and a variety of easily available food, many people use food as a coping mechanism; myself included.

My mom uses food to express her love for the people who matter to her. Our blended family provides the perfect opportunity for her to showcase her talent for making delicious meals in the many forms we require it. Whether it be diabetic, vegetarian or lactose-intolerant, she ensures every family meal is not only nutritionally adequate for all of our palettes, but also genuinely enjoys trying a new recipe or adapting an existing favourite to meet the needs of those she loves.

On the other hand, my relationship with food is more complex. My parents split up when I was 11 and it was shortly after that when I started hiding food in my room. It felt like what food I made, ate or purchased was the only part of my life I could control. Food didn’t tell me what to do, how to feel or how to behave. And for many years, my eating disorder served its purpose well. Until I started to gain weight.

Today, food and I have made a truce. Over the last year and a half, I’ve had firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to be hungry and not have food to sustain my body. I am finally learning what food is for; to survive. I have been abusing food the way alcoholics abuse alcohol or drug addicts abuse drugs. Consider the difficulty an alcoholic would have if the only way they could survive would be to have a bottle of wine a day, spread out for each meal. No more, no less. Would they still be considered an alcoholic? Absolutely not.

What sort of relationship do you have with food?

Eating money

Boaz YiftachFor many people, money and eating go hand-in-hand. So what do you do when you don’t have enough money to eat?

Looking at me, you wouldn’t guess that I wasn’t eating enough food, which I think has a lot to do with my hesitancy to go stand in line for free food. That and pride.

All my life I felt I was fat. However, it wasn’t until I reached my mid-twenties that I actually started to gain weight and keep it. I use food the way an addict of drugs or alcohol use their choice of addiction – to numb the pain.

Today, I’m a very plus size woman so clearly my addiction has been counter-productive. Or has it? I often say that my pain is on the outside for everyone to see. Maybe, maybe not.

Not having enough money to do a simple grocery shop has put a new, and perhaps healthy, twist on my addiction. These days, I get excited if I have enough money to buy milk or fruits and vegetables. These days, my focus is on not being hungry rather than blocking my feelings.

All of my money for the month arrives between the 20 and the 30th, so I have to budget carefully. Once I’ve covered my rent, utilities and necessary bills, whatever money I have left goes towards bus tickets for my daughter to get to schools, laundry (unless I get to do it at a friend’s) and food. This amount can range from $20 to $200 for the month.

Guaranteed food supports have already been put in place for my daughter. She’s on the hot lunch program at her school, free of charge. She can attend a homework club before school to get free breakfast and her school participates in a program which drops off fresh fruit to each classroom weekly.

My options are more limited. The back-to-work program I’m in does have a community kitchen and so the one to three days per week I go there, my breakfast and lunch are covered. Sometimes I get to bring home a container of cream cheese or leftover cookies.

We are also very lucky to have a good friend close by who invites us over to dinner fairly regularly. She only cooks organic and so meals at her place are delicious, nutritious and filling. She has supported me in many other ways, but besides her amazing friendship, having us over for dinner has been a life saver.

Other than that, it’s up to me to provide for my daughter and I the rest of the time, which includes after school snacks, dinners, weekends and whatever other meals we’re not getting elsewhere.

A great month is when I’ve done a big shop at a discount grocery store and stocked up. Then, all I have to buy weekly is produce and maybe dairy. This might happen if I get a GST cheque or other, unexpected money.

In a good month, I can plan healthy meals, shop for the ingredients and not have to worry too much about how much money I’m spending and how much money I have left for the remaining three weeks of the month.

An average month is when I’ve managed to ensure we have bread, milk, cheese, eggs, fruit and vegetables every week. You’d be amazed at how many different recipes you can make with these ingredients.

A bad month consists of quick runs to the local dollar store for pasta or rice, sauce, canned fruits, vegetables, lentils and meat. Sometimes, we can get day-old vegetables for $1 at a local market.

A desperate month involves visits to The Salvation Army, the Food Bank and ‘soup kitchens’. This is a desperate month. So far, I’ve been to the Salvation Army, which you can read about in a previous post “Visiting Sally Ann“, will go to the Food Bank on Monday and hope I have the courage to attend a free dinner at a local church in my neighbourhood on Wednesday.

Have you experience eating with little-to-no money to buy food? How have you coped?

Sleep Deprivation

David Castillo DominiciInsomnia or sleeping too much are both symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety; all of which I’m currently experiencing.

It wasn’t until I had my daughter in 2001 that I really understood the term ‘sleep deprivation.’ I think I’ve been tired ever since and I know many parents who can relate.

Just two years after I had my daughter, I was diagnosed with sleep apnea. I remember being late for the appointment, as I’d gone to the gym with the hopes of feeling more energized. According to the sleep consultant, however, my test results showed that I shouldn’t have the energy to get out of bed, let alone go to the gym. My options were to either lose weight or use a CPAP machine. As losing weight was an ongoing struggle for me, I opted for the latter.

Once I got used to the mask and the sound, my sleep improved almost immediately. Getting enough sleep helped me to deal with my increasingly stressful marriage, which included ongoing financial woes.

Ten years later, and I’m back to square one. In my quest to feel less anxious, stressed, depressed and exhausted (which will hopefully get me off of income assistance), I went back to my doctor to discuss my sleeping issues. And back to a sleep specialist I went. Again, the tests have come back that I am a walking zombie, which alleviates my anxiety somewhat on wondering what the hell is wrong with me this time. As if I need more problems.

So someone who is on anti-depressants can still have depressive episodes and someone who is using a CPAP machine for sleep apnea can still have sleep problems. Aren’t those oxymorons?

Like food and shelter, sleep is a basic need for survival. Lack of sleep can cause all sorts of problems such as anxiety, short attention span, memory loss, depression and low self-esteem – all of which I deal with on a daily basis.

Thankfully, starting today,  I have a sleep specialist who monitors my sleep patterns on a regular basis to ensure I get a good night’s sleep. What will it feel like to not be sleep deprived? I have no idea, but hopefully that will soon change.

Poverty vs low-income


Upon reviewing the definitions of poverty and low-income, I suspect I fall more into the latter.

There’s a lot of controversy around what the real definition of poverty is. When I’ve thought of poverty in the past, a picture similar of what you see in this post is what comes to my mind.

In reality, there are two types of poverty: relative or absolute. Relative poverty refers to the distance from the community norm while absolute poverty refers to the inability to meet basic needs.

No official definition of ‘low-income’ exists, however Statistics Canada measures it in three different ways;

  1. Low income cut-off (LICO) – Based on the ability to purchase necessities. This is compares income thresholds below which families devote a larger share of income to the necessities of food, shelter and clothing than the average family would.
  2. Low income measure (LIM) – Based on inequality and to measure income for international comparison.
  3. Market basket measure (MBM) – Based on a household’s ability to afford necessities. This represents a standard of living that is a compromise between subsistence and social inclusion that reflects differences in living costs across the country (based on 2 adults and 2 children per family).

Whether I define the reality of my situation as being in poverty or low income is irrelevant.  The fact is, I’m struggling not only to make ends meet, but to cover my basic needs of food, shelter and clothing.

My entire income assistance cheque doesn’t cover my shelter costs. The little amount of extra income I make sometimes doesn’t cover food. My child tax benefit cheque pays bills – internet and phone. My child support is meant for keeping my daughter safe to/from school, but often gets put towards food or the amount remaining on my shelter costs.

Although there are benefits to being in the low income tax bracket, I don’t recommend you get your life to the point where you have to find out.