The trouble with food banks
I recently watched My Week on Welfare by Jackie Torrens. There are many discussions that need to be started regarding the issues raised in this documentary that people living on income assistance face. One particular issue stood out for me, because food insecurity has been a constant concern with the individuals I have had the opportunity to work with. The documentary highlighted a few of the issues people face while accessing food banks, but it did not actually display the realities of what it is like to access a food bank.
To begin, we need to consider how a person can access food bank information. Finding out where to go assumes a person has connections in the community that can direct them in the right way. A person can seek out this information on their own if they know how to access it, assuming they have access to a phone or a computer. Many people are not funded for telephones so would not be able to access to this information from their own home. As well, I have access to resources that provide information on the food bank locations and hours of operation, and have received false information about the food bank hours twice in the previous six months.
Through my work, I have attended a couple different food banks throughout the city. I want to present a few of the situations I have encountered to provide a bit of insight into what it is like to access a food bank.
I had to help a client on a last-minute basis because her income assistance cheque was delayed in the mail. She usually had access to food support through one of our programs, but that program was a few days away, her cupboards were empty and she had no money left from the previous month. I was able to find a food bank in her area that by coincidence was open at the exact time we needed. We showed up at the time (1pm) we were told it was scheduled to open. People were waiting outside so we knew we were in the right spot.
I was not familiar with how this particular food bank worked, so I asked a woman who was sitting on the steps. She informed me that that food bank did not open until 3pm, but people start lining up at 1pm and the line is usually around the block by 3pm.
After waiting 30 minutes, the person I was with could not stand anymore due to her health limitations. We made a plan for her to access a meal for dinner to get her through the day, but most people there did not have that choice. The woman who we were speaking to attends this food bank every week and waits for two hours because she depends on it.
The next day, I went to another food bank in the city with another person. After waiting 90 minutes in the sun on a very hot day to get in, they were mostly out of food. She was lucky enough to get some tomatoes and cucumbers, a box of cereal, three individual packs of apple sauce, two cans of soup and a pasta sauce with noodles—a "full" order, that you can get once a month. The four people in line behind her were turned away with very few items. Most of them waited almost as long as we had.
The first time I went with a person to a food bank this spring, we waited three hours for her to get in. If we were to add a bus ride there and back (in which she would only be able to get half of what she could get at this food bank due to carrying limitations), that is a five-hour day to get food. This is not a criticism of the needed services provided by the food banks. These experiences are a reflection of the daily struggles people on income assistance face while trying to meet their basic needs. It is not surprising that many people struggle to have the energy to do anything more than just survive. —Shannon Van Mol, social worker, Adsum for Women and Children
Editor's note: My Week on Welfare happens to be screening at the Atlantic Film Festival on Sunday. See page 38 for the when and where.
In the September 3 issue, we printed numbered dots on a photo by Allen Ginsberg. We thought the numbers would help highlight interesting elements in Ginsberg's photography, but we ended up obscuring the artwork, which wasn't helpful at all. We apologize to Mount Saint Vincent Art Gallery and the estate of Allen Ginsberg, and to make it up to them—and you—we have reprinted the unobscured photo on page 28 of the Fall Arts Preview.