One of the jobs I had prior to being elected as an MLA was managing the Nelson Food Cupboard, a food bank in my local community. Ten years ago, we provided hundreds of low-income people with free, nutritious food to prevent hunger in our community. People and businesses of every kind were involved in the endeavor: grocery stores, small business, artists, doctors, chefs, governments, unions, and individual donors. Yet, all of those contributions would never have made it into the hands of hungry families if it wasn’t for the volunteers.
Leading up to World Food Day on October 16, I returned to the Nelson Food Cupboard as a volunteer for the day. I worked next to Kate who was preparing local backyard apples for fresh squeezed apple juice. Kate has volunteered with the Food Cupboard for three years, and she loves it. She told me she likes that it gets her out of the house and makes her feel like part of the community.
Kate has a disability and receives $906 a month from income assistance. She physically can’t work more than 2 or 3 hours a day. This volunteer shift at the Nelson Food Cupboard is what Kate can do for her community.
To help with the added costs of transportation, clothes and food associated with her volunteer work, she receives $100 a month from the Community Volunteer Supplement – a program the Liberals froze in 2011 after promising to replace it with a new one. Over two years later, the Liberals have not delivered on the new program, leaving countless other volunteers with disabilities unable to access this essential program.
In the two years of waiting for the new program, another volunteer, Andy, was diagnosed with Parkinson ’s disease. Andy’s illness prevented him from continuing his volunteer job in the kitchen at a local hot lunch program, so he found another volunteer position that better matched his abilities. To his surprise, he lost the community volunteer supplement's $100 to cover transportation because the government considered the change a new application, and without a new program, they weren’t taking any new applications.
However, Andy, like the rest of us, can’t live on $906 a month. He has medications, transportation to doctor’s appointments, rent, and bills to pay. Despite medical advice otherwise, Andy has just started working 4 to 8 hours a week at a janitorial job. He’s happy to have the work, but he also worries about how long he can continue and the toll it could take on his health.
Kate and Andy are living with their disabilities and at $906 a month, living in poverty. Despite the challenges they face, they are still doing what they can to keep others from going hungry.
Countless other British Columbians share Kate and Andy’s story. Many of B.C.’s volunteers are people with disabilities receiving income assistance. Many of B.C.’s volunteers are people living in poverty, who are struggling to get enough food themselves. This is not an acceptable way to say thank you to the people who work in our communities feeding our most needy.
On this World Food Day, let's consider the ways we can work together to stop hunger in our communities. It’s time B.C. joined Canada’s eight other provinces with a poverty reduction plan. It’s time we made the world a better place, starting right here in our own backyard.
Michelle Mungall is the New Democrat critic for social development and the MLA for Nelson Creston