One of the jobs I had prior to being elected as the MLA for Nelson-Creston was managing the Nelson Food Cupboard. 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 endeavour — grocery stores, small businesses, 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 weren’t for the volunteers.
Leading up to World Food Day on Oct. 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 Nelson Food Cupboard for three years, and she loves it. It gets her out of the house, she told me, and makes her feel like part of the community.
Kate also has a disability and receives $906 per month from income assistance. She physically can’t work more than two or three 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 cut in August 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, 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 per month. He has medications, transportation to doctor’s appointments, rent and bills to pay. Despite medical advice otherwise, Andy has just started four to eight 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, live 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, struggling to get enough food themselves. This is not an acceptable way to say thank you to the people who work in our communities to feed our most needy.
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 member of the legislative assembly for the Nelson-Creston provincial riding, and is the Opposition critic for social development.