While today marked the first day of my food bank diet, last Friday was when this challenge really began. I expected to be out of town this past weekend, so I decided to pick up my food hamper in advance. My first step was to visit 211 online and see which food banks were located in my area. It was slightly unclear as to which centres offered which services, but I opted to try the The Fort York Food Bank. Friday around 1230, peak lunch hour, I rode along Dundas unsure of exactly what I would find. The Bank was alive with people. The sunny day allowed for fellow lunchers to congregate on the street. Not being thoroughly conscious of what one might wear to a Food Bank, I arrived in my leather boots, skirt and pashmina… perhaps a little over dressed for the occasion. I walked inside, maybe my confused expression or attire made it obvious, but I was immediately directed to the back of the room to look for someone named Ashley. Ashley is a “volunteer that never left” she started working at the food bank during her undergrad and has been there ever since. She was aware of the Do the Math Challenge and quick to show me the ‘ropes’ of how information is processed and how people are registered. People interested in a food hamper have to take a number. Once they are called Ashley searches their name in the computer, checks in to see how they are doing, and records their frequency of visits.
“You know this hamper is for three days of meals, right?” she explains to me. “Three breakfasts, three lunches and three dinners.”
“Oh, no, I didn’t.”
“It is intended to supplement someone’s weekly food purchases, and not to be their only source of food.”
Ok, I thought, that makes sense. So, people are not expected to be living off these baskets exclusively, but using them as part of other purchases. This makes a 12-pack of hot-dogs far less concerning than I had originally thought. But how realistic is it that people will be able to spend their meagre disposable income on food, I thought to myself.
“Are you in a rush? Do you want to stick around and watch the registration process?” she asks.
“Sure, I have nowhere to be.”
I took a seat beside her, keen to see just who is coming to the Fort York Food Bank.
Several jubilant old men pass through Ashley’s booth, chuckling about life, earlier visits and the complexities of aging. Next a young kid takes a seat. He looks about my age. Ashley looks him up in the database, his name doesn’t appear.
“Do you have any id?” she asks.
“No,” he responds.
“Ok, well you will have to register before we can give you a number.”
Another volunteer comes to assist the process and asks the young man a series of questions.
“What is your monthly income?”
“I am on OW (Ontario Works). So $585”
“And what is your rent?”
“And your utilities?”
“About $100 a month.”
At the food bank they subtract an individual’s rent from their monthly earnings; the remaining number determines how many food baskets they can receive per month. Looking at the out-of-date chart, individuals with a disposable income of $70-$90 are eligible for weekly food hampers. For those with higher earnings, they can only get 1-3 per month.
The only things I could really think about were, so what exactly is the difference? Why am I sitting here our of pure interest, while you wait for a number? Is there even an answer to such a question? Certainly there is, but to what degree is it even valid?