I have a friend who, as a result of an incurable illness, is on a social assistance disability allowance. She gets about $625/month from the government and from this she pays $535 for rent on her tiny apartment, about $35 for electricity and another $30 for phone. Not much left for food there.
My friend is allowed to earn up to $500 to supplement her income; more than that and she is disqualified from receiving her allowance. When she is well enough to do so, she supplements her allowance through work but, even in months when she is well enough to earn the full amount, making ends meet is a struggle. She walks everywhere because a bus pass is a luxury she can rarely afford. Aside from underwear, she has not bought new clothing in years. Her wardrobe comes from local thrift stores as do her dishes, linens, and furniture.
Despite that fact that her embattled immune system needs the nutrition, fresh vegetables are often out of reach for my friend, especially in the winter months. Many is the month when need forces her to choose between subsisting on rice and oatmeal or visiting the food bank to ask for assistance. Even so, when she does have enough to get by, she can be found sharing what she has with various homeless people in town–people she considers less fortunate than herself. Her positive attitude and generous spirit are an inspiration to me. At the same time, it angers me that such a good person has to struggle so, just to get by.
When I purchased our CSA share this year, with catering in mind, I bought the largest one available. It was my intention to serve this beautiful, organic, locally grown produce to my customers. Fate, in the form of illness, intervened and I have not been working at all so I find myself with a surplus of vegetables every week. I’m grateful to have them and to be able to share them with my friend. I phone her after I’ve picked up my basket each week, tell her what I have, and ask her what she can use. Sometimes she takes a fair bit and sometimes, when she has money enough to buy her own fruit and vegetables, she takes none at all. I then set aside what we can use, and the remainder goes to the food bank.
Many people who use the food bank are in circumstances similar to my friend’s. Others are elderly or have children to feed. For most of them, including enough fresh fruits and vegetables in their diet is an illusive goal. Food banks do what they can through programs like BC Sharing (a cash donation program that allows them to purchase produce at wholesale prices) but, for the most needy among us, there is nearly always a nutritional deficit.
Because I wish to help address the nutritional challenges faced by many food bank clients, I purchase BC Sharing coupons regularly at the grocery store. If I’m at a store that doesn’t participate in the program, I make a point of speaking with the manager and requesting that they do so. I also shop with donations in mind. I pick up fruit and vegetables that will keep relatively well—root vegetables, cabbage, citrus fruit and apples—and I try to deliver them to the food bank on the afternoon before they open their doors to clients.
Like all good ideas and many good intentions, this one comes with a caveat: Refrigerated storage is limited or non-existent at many food banks. Before purchasing or harvesting fruit and vegetables for donation, call the food bank in your area to ensure that they have the means to accept and distribute them. If they don’t, look for other ways to get fresh food to those in need. Community kitchens, seniors’ drop-ins, day cares for children from low income families are but a few options. If you contact your MLA’s office and explain your intentions, they’ll be happy to connect you with organizations who can put your donation to good use.
So…If you’re gardening, plant an extra row. If you’re shopping, buy some extra fresh fruits and vegetables. Make sure your donation reaches people in need. It’s like tossing a pebble into a pond: The effects of your kindness will ripple outward, touching your entire community.