17 November 2009

Visiting the Food Bank

Went to the food bank for the first time two weeks ago. Had been putting off this visit for the past eight years, during which my household income from self-employment was at or below the poverty gap. Disabilities prohibit regular employment.

In Canada, the poverty GAP hovers around the lowest decile (i.e., 10th) income category, while the poverty LINE marks the lowest quintile, or 5th, income category. In other words, the poverty measure almost exclusively used in this country is Statistics Canada's Low Income Cut Offs (LICOs), which divide the income from all Canadian households into five groupings.

Since the LICOs are the same across the country, there are some communities in which residents living at the poverty line, as opposed to the poverty gap, are experiencing no real hardship. Certainly that had been the case in this community. Recent economic development in the form of a huge big box boom - thanks to business-friendly municipal councils - has resulted in a rapid increase in rents and other household costs. That has made living at or below the poverty gap even harder.

Anyway, my visit to the local food bank was only to get bread, which is free to anyone who walks in off the street. One doesn't have to apply for this food assistance, which is why I didn't get anything but bread. Have felt too embarrassed and intimidated to go through the application process.*

With bread prices more than having doubled over the past year, I'd stopped buying it. Was nice to have bread again and I'm grateful to local grocers for supplying it to the food bank.

I just wish our grocers wouldn't send ALL their day-old bread to the food bank.

It used to be that bread and other foodstuffs, like ripe fruit and veggies, was available at half price for customers to purchase. Now, either you must pay the full price for fresh bread or go to the food bank to get day-old bread for free.

There's no longer an in-between option for low-income shoppers. This suggests that it's not just the recession contributing to a surge in food bank use. It's also changes in local practices made in response to the existence of food banks, such as the removal of shopping alternatives for people of low income.

* For example, do applicants to the food bank have to be on government financial assistance? If not, must they reveal everything about their personal finances, backed up by bank statements, copies of their rental agreement, etc? All this can be enough to keep some people away, despite their need for help.

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