As a lay worship leader providing short-term pulpit supply for several United Churches in the Oxford area, I have to write a message every week on a particular topic.
With World Food Sunday on October 18, I decided to learn more about the root of food insecurity – 15% of Nova Scotians do not have unlimited access to nutritious and safe foods – and so I asked two people who are familiar with the issue, What does poverty look like in Cumberland County?
Colleen Dowe, secretary of the Empowering Beyond Barriers Society, replied, “It looks like no choice. It looks like judgement.”
She explained that choice means some kids in a classroom get to play hockey while others are lucky to have a healthy snack. It also looks like parents going without food so their children can eat, often running out of money before the end of the month and needing to go to the food bank.
“When you look inside a food bank, everyone’s head is down,” said Dowe who has volunteered at a food bank. “We’re trying to remove the stigma because we need people to use these supports, especially for their kids. So what poverty looks like is people who have no choice. And by judgement, I mean ‘poor bashing’, saying things like ‘I pay taxes so you can lie around’.”
According to the website for the Department of Social Services, a person on social assistance receives $255 each month for groceries, toiletries, transportation, and other non-rent expenses. I can’t imagine $255 goes very far, especially when it comes to buying fresh fruit and vegetables, and meat, let alone non-food essentials like toilet paper and feminine hygiene products.
Not everyone relies on social assistance, however, and Dowe said Cumberland County has a huge number of people who are working poor.
“Often, they’re working three or four jobs because they’re working a few hours here, a few hours there,” Dowe said. “We have a lot of retail and fast food jobs, and the minimum wage has gone up, but if people are not in a full-time jobs, their hours are spread out and they don’t have benefits.”
The greatest victims of poverty, though, are those who truly have no choice: children. When I asked the Executive Director of Maggie’s Place Family Resource Centre in Amherst, what poverty looks like, Carolyn D’Entremont said, “Hopelessness.”
And education is the key.
“If they’ve grown up in this, if they haven’t finished their education then it becomes that unrelenting cycle,” she said. “Some folks are so down, they don’t see a way up. That’s where the hopelessness comes from.”
D’Entremont, too, mentioned judgement.
“People are pretty generous in the community but you do hear the judgmental stuff,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what system you set up, there’s always going to be someone who is going to take advantage of it and you just have to go in accepting that. For the handful who are taking advantage of this, I’m helping ninety others. I’m okay with that.”