Thursday, November 25, 2010
Fight To Be Full
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.