Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Giving it All

The holiday season sparks a lot of giving; not just presents to our loved ones but donations of time and energy to causes, too.

I've filled hampers at our local foodbank for almost three years, and there we see a lot of generosity, especially during the holidays.  Unfortunately there are still a lot of misconceptions about what can be donated and what is in demand.  Even with the overwhelming donations, the foodbank still has to purchase food to meet their basic needs, not because we do not have enough: because we have a glut of certain things and a lack of others.

If you've considered foodbank donations during the holidays, there are some things you deserve to know:

  1. Next to your time, the most valuable form a donation can take is money - To my knowledge, every foodbank has to purchase some of the goods they provide.  Foodbanks purchase certain foods to fill gaps in donated goods, ensuring their clients receive the same amount and diversity of foods in their hamper.  Funding is hard to come by for these programs, and private donations come with additional freedoms (no stipulations and reporting requirements).  Furthermore, foodbanks can often put your money to better use than you: many receive discounts for goods purchased at local stores.
  2. Fresh produce will in fact be well received, on site - Perishable goods are perfectly acceptable donations, provided you bring them directly to the foodbank.  Fresh foods are standard in hampers, and our foodbank has coolers and freezers to preserve them.  These are some of the few goods our foodbank consistently spends money on.
  3. Hampers often contain more than just food - Our foodbank also gives (on request) personal hygiene products, diapers and baby care items, toilet paper, even dog & cat food.
  4. You carry no liability for the goods you donate - BC's Food Donor Encouragement Act protects donors from liability as they are acting in good faith when donating food, this includes businesses.  Clients always have the choice to take or leave expired goods.
I'd encourage any individual, class, team, office or otherwise considering a donation or drive to be in touch with their local foodbank first, to see what is in most need.  If you live in Kimberley, here are the finer details:
  • Location & Hours - 340 Leadenhall Street (and Wallinger).  Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 am - 3 pm.  Donations accepted anytime.
  • Fresh Produce Purchased for Regular Hampers - onions, carrots, potatoes, apples, oranges.
  • Other Not-Often Donated & Much Needed Non-perishables - peanut butter, jam, cheez whiz, canned tomatoes, spaghetti & macaroni, canned fish, canned fruit & vegetables, pancake mix & syrup; flour, oats, rice and sugar; low sugar cereals, granola bars.
  • Additional Fresh Produce Purchased for Christmas Hampers - potatoes (5 lb bags), turnips, cucumber, celery, lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli, mandarin oranges (boxes), bananas, pears.
    2016 Christmas hamper donations will be received until December 9th, call before to arrange drop-off - 250.427.5522.
Thanks for giving, and happy holidays!


Monday, November 9, 2015

Coffee Talk

My dear friend Jen (and partner in the Welfare Food Challenge) joined me this morning to help me polish off my remaining coffee, and digest a bit of what we've both been experiencing of hunger and learning about poverty.   We both agreed that there was a litany of emotions, thoughts and questions that came to us.   And here with thought we'd just be buckling down and eating lentils for a week.

We wondered on what the objective of income assistance in BC really was.  Is it in fact punitive rather than supportive?  Aimed at making people feel uncomfortable with their situation?  Desperate to change it?  Would it not be more kind and meaningful to provide enough financial support for someone to feel nourished and confident?  Does that not make someone more employable?  Even better, a stronger citizen?

I have some real follow up to do on this years challenge, in a way I did not the last time around.  After attending tomorrow's Poverty Reduction Workshop, I'll be tracking down some answers.  First, what is the true cost of my week's groceries when I return to an unbound purse?  Second, how does the cost of living breakdown (which determined Vancouver's $21 stipend) compare for Kimberley life?

I should note that there is something you can do (dear reader).  Raise the Rates, the organization hosting the Welfare Food Challenge, is asking folks to sign a petition requesting the welfare rate be raised to reflect the true cost of living in BC.  Not a bad start.


Saturday, November 7, 2015


By Thursday night, day three of the Welfare Food Challenge, I had cooked all I had to cook.  There were small joys found in a flavourful pot of dal, date night sourdough pizza, a daily cup of coffee, but I'd saved nothing for later.  From here in, it would all be leftovers, until it was just rice and bread.

Commitment to the challenge was complicated by an out of town work function this weekend. I tried to envision what someone on income assistance would do for meals at a weekend "job-skills-building workshop", and conceded to do my best to adhere to it.  I brought my own food for the first night, decided to survive on morning "snacks" and lunch made available at the event, and also to skip the restaurant dinners that usually follow, fasting until the next day.

Full disclosure: the generosity of my community has been powerful, and occasionally I've accepted their offerings, including: morning coffee (the boyfriend), an apple for the road (the coworker) and finally last night two cold cans of Kootenay True (the friend from out-of-town).  Now, I've always been one for bad hangovers, but normally I've had to do more to earn them.  This beer ravaged me.

For dinner last night I had mushy rice with just a few spoonfuls of the dal I prepared earlier in the week (I was running out), after a day of otherwise meagre portions.  Potentially it was this meal that was not enough to stand up to the beer, perhaps I've been run more ragged than I thought by this whole challenge.  After getting sick on the way to today's workshop, I quickly deteriorated, falling into a day-long coma of nausea I've just returned from as I write this.  Tonight I ate the apple I brought for the trip, following this, tomorrow's "morning snack" will be my next meal.

And what would I do if not for a day of conference food?  Each night this week I've woke up from sleep hungry, and (evidenced today) I'm quite clearly compromised.  Sunday night and Monday I'll be eating straight rice and bread, even with this boost.  Fasting was a technique I unintentionally employed this week, but it's shocking to think it might be the reality of many on social assistance.  How sad.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

21 Dollars, Eaten

This is it.  Twenty-one bucks.  No contingency.

There's four apples, one lemon, one chile, one onion, one small head of su choy, and a knuckle of ginger.  There are carefully measured quantities of flour (1.5 cup, pizza), red lentils (1 cup, dal), coconut (0.5 cup, sri lankan mallum) peanuts (1 cup) and rice (3 cup).  There is a can of tomatoes, and one of starchy peas.  There is a small stick of butter to cook with (not pictured) and salt, pepper and curry powder to keep things interesting. Heck, there's even coffee thanks to the grocery stores decision to liquidate their bulk coffee.  This is a bachelorette's lot, and there was no economy to be found locally for a single lady.

With a busy workday ahead of me, I made for lunch a thermosful of the same peanut-rice porridge (it's a thing! they eat it in Burma!) I had for breakfast.  I threw an apple in there to keep the doctor away.  My morning coffee wore away not far into the mid afternoon drive to an out of town work meeting, and this time there would be no stop for an americano (can you feel the privilege in my text?).

I conceded today that if twenty-one bucks was all I had for groceries, I'd certainly be a food bank client and hamper recipient.  Though it doesn't feel as though I've put a significant dent in the stores right now, I still worry for making it to Monday.


Monday, November 2, 2015

Prep Work

Tonight I fed a few friends on the near last of my garden produce.  Namely we ate tomatoes: roasted, fresh, fried green.  We chased them down with the last bottle of cider from a trip south.  When they left I cleared the crisper, packed away and froze the things that would expire in a weeks time, scrubbed the shelves.  I unpacked the tiny, carefully measured bags of bulk grains, spices, coffee.  I dropped one of only four apples purchased for the week: if this apple were the globe, it sustained a bruise the size of the Indian Ocean.

It's the night before the start of the 2015 Welfare Food Challenge, and I'm dusting off the keys.  This year I'll do my best on just $21 dollars/week: $5 less than last year.  Nothing is perfect about the timing of this week, and there will be tricky meals: cafe-based work meetings, all-day conferences, road trips, dates.  I'm inspired by the critical mass, though, and curious to revisit this in such good company.  One more sleep.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Wrap

My welfare food challenge came to a close two weeks ago with little fanfare.  Towards the end I was growing angry at boredom: sneaking food from my roommates pantry (forgive me), buying the odd beer.  Since returning to an unbridled food budget, I’ve enjoyed fresh seasonal produce, nutrient dense foods and even the odd restaurant meal.  One of the first things I did was buy a flat of fresh strawberries and preserve the living daylights out of them.   It’s good to take pride in my food again.

Though I was rarely hungry, I was constantly struggling to find the gusto to take my limited groceries and prepare something nourishing to both my gut and my soul.  I certainly learned a few ways to breathe life into my diet.  If there were anything to take home, it would have to be:
  • Identify staples on your own terms.  For me, the affordable staples I found myself gravitating to were peanuts/peanut butter, brown rice, lentils, coconut/coconut milk, bananas, sugar, salt and flour.  I also bought coffee and hot sauce, useless for nutrients but real comforts to me.  For anyone else, this list may look entirely different.  Let your tummy guide you.
  • Prepare fresh food, one meal at a time.  I learned this one the hard way after a week of large batch cooking.  Cooking in small batches not only avoids the wastage associated with culinary misfires, it ensures we’re eating the freshest food possible.  Freshly prepared food is at its peak of flavour and nutrition.  It also forces us to take time out of our day to focus on our own nourishment.  Realistically, anyone’s schedule is going to necessitate a few PB&J moments, but try to prepare your food fresh at every opportunity.
  • Consider nothing to be waste.  Pretty basic.  I made stock from veggie scraps.  I dumpster-dove.  I used scant leftovers in breakfast fried rice.  I even made use of a whole box of regrettably awful green tea for kombucha.  Look at every morsel of your groceries as valuable and salvageable.
  • Look for opportunities to add value without paying for it.  For me, this was all about fermentation.  I made sourdough, kombucha, coconut and water kefir.  All made using starters given to me or whipped out of thin air.  Other techniques might include slow braising a tough, cheap cut of meat to make it more digestible (and delicious).  You’ve got these tools in your toolbelt, look for them.

To wrap this all up nice and tight, I’m making a plea for partners when I revisit the $26-dollar-week during Raise the Rates hosted challenge in October.  Perhaps if enough of us put our heads (and bellies) together we can build upon these meager blog posts and actually try to raise a few bucks.  Who’s with me?


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Under-the-Line Banking

I spent Monday afternoon in a church basement, deep in the belly of the town food bank.  I’ve been meaning to volunteer here for some time now, but it wasn’t until Monday that I finally got there.

That afternoon I put to bed some of my own misconceptions of food banks.  Years of experience, understanding and endless care have been put into selecting each hampers contents.  Fresh fruit, vegetables, milk, eggs, vegetables and bread (all ordered) constitute the bulk, with non-perishable (and mostly whole) foods to last for the rest of the time between pickups.  Regular hampers are received every 60 days (when’s the last time you went two months without grocery shopping?), though emergency hampers are available on request once a month.  Vegetarians, celiacs and dairy-allergies are all accommodated with great care.  Begrudgingly the volunteers have kept supplying recipients with select processed foods, including: Cheez Whiz, Kraft Dinner and canned spaghetti.  Though the nutritive contribution of these foods may be low, the comfort they provide can’t be discounted.  A warm blanket of cheese sauce could soft-sell broccoli to almost any reluctant school age kid.  When they tried to take Cheez Whiz off the shelves, there was an outright furor.

I killed hours getting orders together (I’ll be volunteering as a “Filler”, not the most glamorous title), taking great pride in supplementing each order as best I could.  The families with young kids would get a few packs of Shake-and-Bake and Jell-O, teenagers would get jars of butter chicken sauce, single adults would get little gifts of hot sauce, coffee, chocolate.  When I left, many shelves were empty and my heart was full.  I have to wait two weeks before my next training shift.  13 more sleeps.