Doing the math…

June 6, 2010 at 12:47 pm 4 comments

As we round out this campaign, I’ve reflected on the “scenarios” that we provided at the food bank as we registered as clients. Mark and I were going to the Food Bank because we “are expecting our first baby and I have had to take time off work due to complications with the pregnancy. We barely make ends meet.”

In fact, if you “do the math” – we don’t make ends meet.

Our income this month is $1,350 after taxes.

Our rent is $1,000 and we pay $175 in utilities. This month, we have $200 worth of medical expenses due to the complications with the pregnancy. And we only have one income. Using those figures, we have a shortfall of $25. We don’t have any money to spend on other necessities: Nothing for clothing (what if I need something for work, or for inclement weather?). Nothing for transit, not even a low income bus pass – How does my husband get to work? How do I get to my medical appointments? Nothing for household necessities that I didn’t get at the food bank (dishsoap, laundry detergent, soap, shampoo etc. I did get two rolls of toilet paper). Nothing to help me prepare for the baby. Nothing to set aside for an “emergency.”

So in reality, I wouldn’t be stretching my hamper for a week, I’d be trying to make it last all month.

Day 5: Decaying contents of the emergency food hamper. Note the brown lettuce and past-prime mushrooms.

Even getting to the end of the week, I’m feeling exhausted with the meal preparation (and wracking my brain to figure out what to make that my husband and I will both like). Yes, I still have food, but it’s limited. For the rest of the month, I have odds and ends – things that don’t make meals like: 3 cans of tomato soup (my husband hates tomato soup, if only it was chicken noodle!); 2 packages of chicken Mr. Noodles. A package of whole wheat hamburger buns; three quarters of a carton of milk; Oreo cookies, chocolate, muffin mix, cake mix, pudding, jello, corn syrup, meal replacement drinks (6), 2 cans of tomatoes, 1 package of whole wheat pasta, tomato juice, 1 package of cereal, 1 sleeve soda crackers, taco shells and Shake n’ Bake, 2 cans of tuna, 2lbs potatoes, 5 cups of rice, 1 can of beans and 4 plantains (very, very ripe). I also have 2 packages of coleslaw (but one looks very slimy and inedible), 4 packages of nearly inedible mushrooms). 3/4 of a loaf of bread and 4 eggs. Lots of margarine.

I have a few leftovers in the fridge. Enough pasta for two small portions (tonight’s dinner). Half a can of tomato soup and some fried plantains.

I also have some of the basic staples of the house: four, sugar, salt, pepper, vinegar, ketchup (replaced one of my spices), garlic powder, oregano and oil – although I am quickly running low on oil.

One might argue this is still a lot of food. I can’t imagine eating just this for 3 more weeks. I can only begin to imagine how stressed and fatigued, even angry, I would feel. And as Naomi Klein mentioned in the “Do the Math” blog in April, there are no second chances – if you screw something up, you eat it anyway. (She also mentioned that a lot of the meals they prepared – and same could be said for our participants – require time and a fully equipped kitchen – large fridge, full stove instead of a hot plate etc).

Also, if I really was expecting my first child, I would be drinking more milk than I really am. I’d probably have a bigger appetite too.

If I was stretching this hamper as far as I possibly could, I’d be seeking out other options in the community, like meal programs, places I might get help with clothing, transit passes etc. Then again, I’d need transit tickets just to get to a meal program, or the DI clothing store, social services etc. I would also feel isolated. No potlucks, no dinner guests. No shopping or movies with friends.

I’d probably be heading back to the CIFB on transit next month too – with my suitcases to lug home the next hamper (and remember, I’m pregnant.)


Entry filed under: Calgary Food Bank, Erin.

Plantain overdose! Sunday Dinner update

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Erin  |  June 7, 2010 at 11:26 am

    I meant to add that a family that spends 30% or more of their income is considered to be living in poverty – a family that spends more than 60% of their monthly income on housing is considered to be at risk of becoming homeless. Using the “scenario” Mark and I had for this campaign, we would fall into that latter category, spending over 80% of our income on housing and utilities.

  • 2. Sarah  |  June 7, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    If this were really your life – you’d live in a cheaper place, and utlitize outreach programs.

    Did you get a special hamper for being “pregnant”? Does Calgary Interfaith do those?

    When I was 17, I lived at the Y on a floor that was just teens (16-20) and I remember we would eat peanut butter by the spoonful at the end of the month because that’s all we had … lots of crabby people for that week or so. Yikes!

    • 3. calgaryfoodbank  |  June 7, 2010 at 12:20 pm

      Since Erin was just given a scenario, and was not actually pregnant, she did not get the extra milk that goes into hampers for expectant mothers. We do have a Prenatal Hamper Program though, which operates alongside of the Emergency Hamper Program.

      Also Erin’s scenario is a temporary emergency situation. They have only one income due to a complicated pregnancy and extra expenses for the same reason. Because the majority of our clients are the working poor, these emergency situations are what we see again and again. It’s hard to budget for the unexpected, especially in an economy recovering from recession.

      Great point about using outreach programs. I mentioned it in an earlier post that we can refer clients to more than 200 outreach organizations in Calgary. Our volunteers refer them according to what their needs are and what area of the city they live in. These outreach programs can also give them referrals for their 4-7 hampers should they need us again.

  • 4. Erin  |  June 7, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Thanks so much, Sarah. You’re entirely right – there are so many other aspects of my life that would be different if I were actually experiencing this scenario. We would give up some of our recreational activities that have a fee; it would be challenging to keep 3 pets; we’d probably try to rent out a room in order to keep our house. And yes, we’d be seeking out all the various services that we were eligible for – like a low income bus pass (Calgary has one, I don’t think ottawa does though) and various programs that offer prenatal assistance – like Best Beginnings, which I was referred to by the Food Bank. That would make me eligible for additional food support and prenatal care, assistance with transportation whenever possible etc.


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