Thursday, November 25, 2010

Fight To Be Full

Volleyball, horseshoes, good food, and even better friends make summer days in the Comox Valley complete. There’s a group of us that have gathered every week for the last 2.5 years. These gatherings consist of bible study, fellowship, sharing life together, and more often than not – there’s food. Our group is always changing, new faces appear, old faces return, and many regularly attend these weekly gatherings. This particular summer night, 50+ young adults gathered at the volleyball courts downtown Courtenay for a potluck-bbq, and amongst the many faces, a new pair of faces made an impact that day.

We’ll call them Jill and Tom. The middle aged couple rolled by on the streets above the volley ball courts riding a pair of old rusty bikes. Piled high behind their backs were two heaping bags 2 or 3 times their size, full of cans, bottles and anything else that could be turned from trash to cash. The night was coming to an end and nearly everyone had filled up on their fair share of salads, desserts and barbeque; even still there was much to spare. Jill and Tom came down the hill to the courts looking to add to their accumulating stash of refundables. They were quickly greeted and offered the empty cans and bottles we had left over, and accepted them without hesitation. If can-collecting wasn’t enough to show their need, it was also their disheveled, worn out appearance and the utter exhaustion in their eyes that let us know they were not just poor, but they were starving. It wasn’t long before heaps of food were being plated and served and Jill and Tom were feasting like they hadn’t eaten in a decade. There was little discussion as the rest of us sat in awe, never having observed such sincere gratefulness for a meal, so much more than any of us had ever appreciated the food we eat everyday, so oblivious to how blessed we really are.

After eating, Tom and my husband played the longest round of horseshoes in the history of outdoor games, while Jill stayed and chatted with those of us that remained. It wasn’t until later when Tom joined in to the conversation that they shared with us their situation. Tom and Jill had never been poor. They’d been comfortably living in Eastern Canada for most of their lives. The recession had hit them hard. They’d lost their jobs and headed West to Vancouver to find work and get back on their feet, but work was nowhere to be found. Tom’s experience in house building and contract work was useless and Jill had no more luck than he did. Weeks turned into months, and collecting cans turned into a full-time, an over-time job – a method of survival, a means to live. The money was decent, in that it allowed them to live in mediocre comfort in a rundown tent trailer onsite a campground in downtown Courtenay. The hot dogs, salad and dessert that they ate that night beat the canned beans they’d been eating for the last month. We offered them the leftovers – they were eternally grateful, and in that moment we were humbled, thankful for what we had and incredibly honored to share it with them that summer evening.

Tom and Jill's situation is nothing new. If we opened our eyes and took a look around us we’d see Jill and Tom everywhere, and if they had any children, we’d see them too – starving, cold, and impoverished - and they’re not alone. This year Canada has seen an almost 10% increase in Food Bank users, bringing the national numbers up to 867,948. Poverty rates in British Columbia have fluctuated over the years, but are consistently among the highest in Canada, with BC seeing a shocking 94,359 food bank users in 2010.

It’s unfortunate but true, that Food Bank users are stigmatized, and whether we care to admit it or not, there’s a decent population of Canadians that assume that those who frequent the Food Bank must have gone wrong somewhere – drug addiction, welfare wasting, credit card spending, or just good old fashioned lazy living. Though I’m sure this accounts for some of the population, the stats tell us that your next door neighbor is as likely to be seen using the Food Bank as the guy living on the street.

Who is hungry in Canada? The working poor make up a large percentage of food bank users. Children account for 37.8 percent, along with families with children, often single parent households, being close behind. Rural communities, people with disabilities, seniors and recipients of income assistance also largely account for those who rely on the food bank to solve their hunger. It’s your everyday Canadian, it could even be you one day.

Our food banks are constantly fighting to fill their shelves and keep a supply of food that can meet the demand. It’s the generosity of our communities that support their endeavor to end hunger, and only you can meet this need. So please, give. Give your time, volunteer at your local food bank, they rely on people like you to serve on-site. Give your food. Non-perishable items can be donated at your local food bank and grocery stores. And lastly, give your money. Any amount, big or small, will go a long way to feed the mouths of the hungry in Canada, in your province, in your city, maybe even a neighbor on your block.

This December 6-10th, Campus Christian Ministries, a Student Club at North Island College is running a 5 day food drive for the Comox Valley Food Bank. Non-perishables can be donated in the entrance of the Tyee Hall between 11am – 1pm over this 5 day food drive, Monday thru Friday. Donations are accepted year round at our local food bank. Call 250-338-0615 for drop-off hours and location.
See the blog for North Islands Campus Christian Ministries for more information on donating at CCM's food drive.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Toque

Let me start off by saying, my son has a rather large head. I optimistically believe that it’s simply accommodating his exceptionally brilliant mind (which I don’t doubt it is), but in all actuality, it’s size is likely inherited from his dad. Sorry babe.
In early fall I bought my son the sweetest little multi-colored, kint toque with a single pom-pom. As I checked out through the till, I internally applauded myself for planning early for winter, rather than doing my usual mid-winter dash to the store to find a toque, only to not find a toque, cause it’s too late in the season. But alas, all good things come to an end. November rolled around, and the perfect little toque (without a chin strap, I might add) is conveniently popping off my sons too-large-skull - it’s not even going to make it to solstice.
And so the search for a toque begins. Halfway through November, and it’s not looking good. If you know me at all, you know I’ll look high and low for the perfect toque; that I’ve already mentally drawn up exactly what I want, and I won’t stop until I get it. Ideally, I already know I’d love to get the same toque he wore last year; a blue, two tasseled , fleece toque with a perfectly set chin strap, warm, neutral colored, and But of course, that was last year, so surely I’ll have to search high and low for anything even resembling this toque.
Now – I should mention, I actually came across the toque he wore last year. During some boxing day deal browsing it turned up on a sale rack, and I foolishly opted to pass. Surely it was MUCH too far ahead to buy a toque (It’s never too early! What is my issue? I blame my Mennonite ancestry – living in an idealistic world that tells me it’ll be there forever, and cost even less.) But of course, later is always too late.
As we cruised up and down the main strip of shops today in a last attempt to find a toque (before I decide to order online or drive to a different city), we found The Toque. The same sweet, blue tasseled toque that I’d known and loved. But the bin it was sitting in was not a sale bin, and the price tag was not pink, orange, or yellow - or anything resembling a discount. The crumpled tag from last year read the same, over priced amount, but without the 40% discount. “NO!!!!”
I want the toque, I have to have the toque, but I’ve got a few more stores to check. I pop it on the counter and ask for it to be held for the day, re-assuring the lady that this is The Toque, and more than likely I’ll be back for it. Store, after store, after store, and not a toque to be found. My heart is really set on this blue toque anyhow.
As we make our way back to the store, I know that we’re not going to buy it. If history holds true, the toque will fit for about 2 months, we’ll be lucky to see it last through the season, and let’s be honest, anything you can buy from a classy boutique store is sorely overpriced and hardly worth what you pay. But I put up a fight, just to find out if my gut feeling is right, or if perhaps I’m just being too cheap. I begged, and I pleaded to my husband, “Pleease, can we have the toque? We NEED this toque!?” (Followed by 15 reasons why. Honestly, I should have been a lawyer.) At last, he cracked (he usually does, like I said, I missed my calling).
But I can’t do it, even with his approval, I can’t dish up the cash to pay for the toque, especially when I’ve got a perfectly fine toque at home that I recently found on consignment(did I forget this part?), only this toque had three tassels instead of two, was slightly shoddy, and as Jabin had previously pointed out – looked like something birthed out of the nineties, a decade we’d all like to forget. Oh, and it cost about a 10th of what this toque did.
Money doesn’t grow on trees, not for us at least. Times can be tight and we are very conscious of being wise with our spending. Unfortunately pride grows easily, and even without a tree, pride is rampant like wild yellow broom, ugly, smelly, and absolutely everywhere.
 I go in waves of getting caught in the trap of consumerism – I have this awful, burning need to portray the perfect family; to have just the right clothes, home d├ęcor, and anything else that my culture tells me defines me. It costs a lot to follow these consumer-culture trends, and not just my out of pocket cash and racked up credit card. My time (spent looking for the perfect toque), my self-worth, and my ability to give and be generous is decreased by my frivolous spending on things I don’t even need. I’m tired of this mentality. It’s physically exhausting to be constantly fighting a battle I literally can’t afford to win, and in the meantime, I’m hoarding ever dollar I have for the sake of seeing how far I can stretch it to expand my ego even further.
On the way home we stopped at my favorite consignment store, and for a bit of change I found a charming little multi colored knitted toque, with a perfect fitting chin strap and a pom-pom on top. It’s slightly pilled and gently worn, but it’s really all we need. The other one I’ve got, well, it’s free to someone else.

Sagacious Mama