FOOD BASKET CHALLENGE — Saskatoon Bishop Donald Bolen (right) lines up with other patrons of the Food Bank to pick up his basket of food for the week. (Yaworski photo)
Bolen participates in Food Basket challenge
SASKATOON — Walking in solidarity with those in poverty recently became a tangible action for a group of community leaders who are experiencing first-hand what it is like to live on a food basket from the Saskatoon Food Bank for one week.
Organized by the Food Bank and the Saskatoon Health Region, the Food Basket Challenge is held to “foster a dialogue about poverty in our community and strengthen the relationships between people who possess the lived experience of poverty and those who do not.”
Bishop Donald Bolen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon joined other community leaders Sept. 12 at the Saskatoon Food Bank, standing in line to show their health cards and register, before receiving a typical hamper.
The food bank basket is to be their only fare for the week, with an option to use up to $5 to purchase extra food items. Participants cannot eat out or accept free food or drink during the challenge. However, to make their food supplies last longer, participants are welcome to use community meal programs (soup kitchens.)
Packing the food from his hamper after an all-day diocesan Administration Day, Bolen was grateful to see spinach, potatoes and corn provided, but observed he would be eating more white bread than usual. “There is also a poverty involved in not being able to choose the food you eat,” he observed.
Since the week ahead included travelling to Ontario to lead a retreat at the seminary in London, a number of meetings and receptions, Bolen said the experience would be challenging, but that he was determined to participate.
“In working with the churches in supporting the Good Food Junction, I learned a good deal about poverty in the city, and the food security issues that many people face,” Bolen said. “This is another way of helping to draw attention to these needs and the challenges many face every day.”
“The Gospel calls us to be attentive to the needs of others, and the Food Basket Challenge specifically draws attention to the needs of those who for one reason or another need to draw upon the food bank,” the bishop said. It also shows the limits of that resource in responding to the issues of poverty and hunger, he added.
Through online blogs and video interviews, participants are reflecting on the contents of the basket, what it is like to deal with health and work issues without the option of choosing what or how much to eat, and the impact of hunger and food restrictions on well being and self worth.
In one online post, participant Heather Morrison of radio station Magic 98.3 described feeling sluggish and disconnected as she struggles to live off the hamper offerings.
“I feel like I don’t fit in anymore, which is another discovery that is making me sad: this lack of food security has gone beyond hunger; it is affecting my sense of self-worth,” Morrison said. “I look at everyone else who can eat whatever they want, whenever they want and I feel like I am a whole different world than them. It’s lonely, you guys.”
Other reflections include descriptions of day-to day struggles to stretch or prepare the food provided, as well as how to deal with diabetes or allergies without control of food choices.
One local musician participating in the challenge, Joel of High Hopes, said that he found himself affected by the thought of eating donated food. “Eating the food basket made me realize something I hadn’t thought of, the shame someone might feel when they are dependent on them. I realize that I was doing this for charity, but the thought of a hard-working mom needing to live off of it, or even a student: I think in their shoes, I might feel guilty or bad. They obviously shouldn’t, but I do feel like there is a lot of social stereotypes involved with the food bank.”
Each month the Saskatoon Food Bank receives approximately 12,000 requests for emergency food baskets — almost half of which are for children.
Background materials prepared for the Food Basket Challenge cited studies and statistics to point out the systemic causes of poverty. In Canada, some one third of children born to impoverished parents stay in poverty as adults. People with disabilities face 53 per cent higher unemployment rates, and in Saskatchewan, seven out of 10 long-term social assistance clients have a disability. More than one quarter of seniors in Canada live at or near the poverty line.
One-third of poor children in Saskatchewan live in families with full-time, full-year employment. Full-time minimum wage pays under $20,000 per year — almost $16,000 below the poverty line for a family of four, according to Statistics Canada research.
The problem is compounded by recent increases in the cost of food.