An intimate look inside the Food Bank — Part 2

Editor’s Note:

Over the last 10 years the Food Bank that some thought would be a temporary agency has become institutionalized and necessary to a great many people. Yet for all that it remains a mystery of sorts and the subject of rumours and innuendo.

With National Hunger Awareness Day, May 31, approaching The Current decided to explore the Food Bank by tasking writer Laura Stovel with writing about it from a new angle.

The second article in her series is below. Enjoy:


The journey to the Food Bank: It’s all too easy

By Laura Stovel

Let’s do the math. As of May 1 the BC minimum wage rose from $8 to $8.75 an hour.  By May 2012 it will be $10.25. Even at a wage of $10.25 an hour, a person working full time – 7 hours a day, 20-22 days a month would earn $1,435 to $1,578.50 a month.  Let’s take the half-way point of $1500 a month. In a year the worker would earn a gross salary of $18,000.

Thankfully a person earning less than $22,000 qualifies for premium medical assistance so basic medical costs are covered by the government. However the worker does have to pay income taxes. Gordon Frocklage of H&R Block kindly provided me with a rule of thumb for estimating this: Subtract $11,000 to the total income and take 20% of that. This worker would therefore be left with $16,600 after taxes.

Rental prices have shot up in Revelstoke in recent years. An individual would be lucky to find a one-bedroom apartment for $700 a month. The other alternative is to share accommodation but rental prices can still be high and not everyone wants to share accommodation or is well suited to sharing. If our worker pays $700 a month for rent – $8,400 a year – that will take just over half of his or her income; he or she is left with $8,200.

We haven’t counted the cost of heat, electricity, phone, internet and maybe a vehicle – insurance, gas and the inevitable tune-ups and repairs. (Many jobs require that a worker has a vehicle, phone and internet.) It would not be unreasonable to budget an average of $300 to $400 a month to cover these costs. If we averaged $300 a month for these expenses, or $3,600 a year, that leaves $4,600 or $383 a month for all the rest: haircuts; clothes; toiletries; household items; a bicycle; gifts for birthdays or Christmas; the occasional trip to a café or an evening out; and for food. That money goes pretty quickly and very little can be saved.

Now let’s say that this person has only managed to find a part time job or has been laid off and is surviving on employment insurance. Perhaps he has to manage on a disability pension of $900 a month for a single person.

Or perhaps he or she is a single parent and is supporting children. Growing children need clothes, shoes and food and they want to participate in activities with their friends and equipment and fees can be costly.  One single parent mentioned how important it was to her that Community Connections provided her family with a pass to the Aqua Center as this is the only extracurricular activity her children can participate in.

Also, many immigrant workers who earn close to minimum wage send money home regularly to support family members, including their own children who they have had to leave behind. In addition to the money they manage to send, they pay $10-$15 in charges to Western Union or MoneyGram.

All of a sudden the expenses have caught up and there is little left for food. All of a sudden, a trip to the Food Bank becomes a real possibility – a welcome possibility.

Community Connections asked Food Bank clients to write down their expenses and feelings about the Food Bank. These show that many people are living under conditions that are much more difficult that the scenario I described above.

A single woman receives a disability pension of $897 a month. She pays $575 in rent and $97 for Hydro and cable. That leaves $225 for all other expenses. She writes, “Being on disability is a blessing. It helps out. Wish it was a little more. Living in Revelstoke is quite expensive, but my family lives here. Thank God.”

A 45-year-old, single male earns $700 a month on income assistance and doing odd jobs pays $450 a month for rent, leaving him $250 for everything else. He writes, “Chronic pain and depression are a big factor in what kind of jobs I can do. I do hard physical work but it limits the days I can work per week and employers don’t like that fact.”

A single female with three children receives $1,249 a month and pays $900 in rent plus $285 in expenses, leaving $64 a month. Another single female with one child receives $945 in income assistance and pays $674 in rent, leaving $273 for everything else. And a man who I met at the food bank told me “I couldn’t keep my son because I couldn’t afford to feed us both.”

These are just some of the many stories by Food Bank recipients. Too many of those stories are written by people surviving on disability pensions that do not cover the costs of living a normal, dignified life in Revelstoke. Others depict life in a tough job market, or the consequences of a relationship that fell apart, leaving the caregiver and his or her children in poverty.

Doing the math on jobs and income in Revelstoke can be a humbling experience and it can show many of us how lucky we really are. We are lucky to have a strong and caring community; the Revelstoke Food Bank and Community Connections play important roles in providing free activities, community links and much-needed food for those of us who need a hand.

Click here to read the first article in this series