photos: Raise the Rates puts on the Welfare Food Challenge to highlight how difficult it is to eat on $18 a week.

Living on $18 a Week

Director's Corner: It's impossible to eat a balanced diet on the current welfare rate

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Could you live on a food budget of $18 a week? You may not realize just how thin the margins are unless you’ve lived on social assistance.

Eighteen dollars is what’s left over for food from a monthly social assistance cheque of $610—once you’ve paid modest rent, laundry, and phone bills (not including transportation costs). If that sounds like enough to you, I challenge you to take part in the Welfare Food Challenge with me from October 16 to 22.

According to the National Nutritious Food Basket (used by provinces and territories across Canada to measure the cost of a healthy diet), the weekly budget necessary to buy nutritious food in B.C. in 2015 for a single person was roughly $72—four times the $18 you may have on social assistance. And it’s steadily going up.

But numbers alone don’t move us to action. It’s people that have the power to do this, sharing their stories to help us understand what those numbers mean for daily life.

That’s part of why I’m participating in this year’s Welfare Food Challenge, in solidarity with many of Megaphone’s vendors. Raise the Rates, an anti-poverty group that advocates for low-income people in B.C., has organized the Welfare Food Challenge for five years. Participants are challenged to live on $18-worth of food for one week, and to share their experiences.

I’ve done some budgeting already. With my $18 for the week’s groceries, I can buy: beans, rice, and bananas. And coffee, I think. Forget cream, though. Am I allowed hot sauce? Not unless I decide to use the roughly 10 per cent of my budget it would cost to buy it.

The rules are strict: no free meals, no buying extra food, no filching greens from your neighbour’s garden. It’s thin. And I can already tell it will take a lot of planning.

This is why it’s so shocking that the social assistance rates have been frozen since 2007.

Looking down at my meager grocery list, the only conclusion I can reasonably come to is that the people making the choice to not raise the welfare rate have never depended on it.

No one who sits down to try to stretch $18 for a week’s worth of food would argue that is enough to live on. No one would decide living like this is fair, or want their loved ones to experience it.

Less than a year out from the 2017 provincial election, we need to make poverty an election issue. Join the conversation on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as the Megaphone team takes the Welfare Food Challenge this month.

Hope in Shadows 2017

There is more going on this October. Autumn is in full swing around here: Decorative gourds abound, pumpkin spice fills the air, and the Hope in Shadows calendar hits the streets on October 18 in Vancouver and October 24 in Victoria. The project has evolved in its first full year under Megaphone’s stewardship.

On the theme of firsts, we have three this year I’m excited to share: for the first time all the winning photographs were taken by Megaphone and Hope in Shadows vendors. For the first time, we held a photography contest with our vendors in Victoria. And for the first time, customers can purchase the calendar even when they don’t have cash, using the Megaphone App.

This year’s photography contest theme was “Joy and Hope.” Vendors were each given a single-use, point-and-shoot disposable film camera to capture that essence in their snapshots.

The results are an incredible, beautiful testament to the resilience and creativity of Megaphone’s vendors.

This year’s calendar is special because you get to see the community through the lens of the Victoria and Vancouver vendors you buy from each month, and experience their resilience through adversity—their hopes and joys.

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