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Thursday October 7 – Day four

6:00 AM

Up early today and heading back to the
airport to go to Ottawa for another of our local area leadership meetings.  I had some arrowroot cookies and peanut
butter along with my coffee while I finish packing and getting ready for my

Can’t quiet imagine how I’m going to
take food with me on the plane again today – and this time I’m staying over in
Ottawa because on Friday Local 503 has organized a forum on Public Private
Partnerships and I want to be able to attend.

As I come closer the end of this week of
challenge I realize that I’ve won a bet with some of the staff in our office
who assumed there was no way I’d be able to maintain this challenge for more
than a couple of days.

They might not of realized that I had
some training for this in my youth – when our family was on social assistance,
or when I was at university and working hard to pay tuition and rent.  But I think the main thing that has kept me
going is knowing that it’s only 5 days. 
I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  And I feel horrible about it.  Where is the light at the end of the tunnel
for the close to 400,000 people using food banks every month – for those
suffering through this jobless recovery where the banks are making profits again
but so many families are still suffering – for those on social assistance to
have to make the choice everyday to either pay their rent or feed their kids.

12:00 PM

An amazing meeting of our membership in
the Ottawa area – and Jennifer Mizerovsky is here!  Jenn agreed to take this challenge with me
and got her mom and daughter to do it with her this week.  It’s actually great just having someone to
talk to about what this is like.

With Jenn it’s even more intense because
her daughter is doing the challenge as well and she has been clear about
sacrificing food for herself so her daughter can have it – so she can take food
to school that won’t be the target of other kid’s teasing.  So many parents have these challenges with
their kids – how many of our members are felt the same way this morning while
they were packing lunches for their kids to take to school….

I don’t have food with me and of course
our members have sandwiches and deserts and coffee providing lunch for
participants.  They’ve already heard from
Jenn about this challenge so everyone knows I can’t eat this food with
them.  Jenn is my saviour – she shares a
half of a sandwich with peanut butter on whole grain bread.  She got
bread in her basket – score!  I’m so grateful to her for providing me
– yesterday after not eating most of the day I was getting light headed –
will definitely help to get me through. 
I figure this isn’t breaking the rules if someone else on the challenge
shares food with me.

6:00 PM

Just finished a visit at the Dalhousie
Food Cupboard – What an amazing spot.  I
met with Sairah Shahid – the Coordinator and only staff person at the program,
the President of their Board of Directors, a gentleman involved for some 15
years with this program, and a volunteer who used the services of the food
cupboard and now donates her time there – Lorna.

I’m grateful they waited around until
just after 4 when I arrived – the program is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from
11 until 3 but they gracious agreed to stay open for me.  I’m welcomed warmly into their bright, well organized
space and offered some water which I gladly accept.

As these wonderful, warm, caring folks
speak to me about this program I start to see what I saw in Peterborough on
Monday – a real commitment to the community they support in Ottawa.  Sairah tells me they are in an area with one
of the highest concentrations of working poor people anywhere in the
province.  This program supports about 80
people a day by providing food directly to them based on a request list they
fill out.  The program has the typical
canned staples – soup, beans, etc., but it also has milk and eggs and fruit and
vegetables and even meat!

They have arrangements with farmers
close by who donate fruit and vegetables not “perfectly formed” for the
ridiculous standards that we have in our grocery stores (who cares if the apple
is oddly shaped or has a bit of discolouring on the peel, its and APPLE) and
they use these to provide fresh fruit and vegetables like carrots, onions and
potatoes to people.  20 pounds of each of
these are donated every other week and the program divides it up to share it
equally amongst its users.  The very idea
of an apple makes my mouth start to water – I haven’t had fresh fruit all week
and I used to have it everyday – I miss it more than I thought….

There are 15 volunteers that are the
engine of this place – who assist in greeting those who come here (like Lorna
does!), interviewing and creating files for them all, and ultimately dividing
up the food available based on their needs and availability.  This program has to keep track of who uses it
because they are funded in part by the city of Ottawa and get some of their
food from the Ottawa food bank and they have to demonstrate they support only
people in their catchment area.  There is
no means test – you don’t have to “prove” you need the food.  Here they believe that if you show up you
need it – that’s good enough for them.

And they do much more than just provide
food to those who come here.  Lorna is
one of the most energetic, positive and caring people I’ve met in a while.  As the person who greets clients she
absolutely provides them with dignity and a feeling of welcome.  There is a clothing area for people to take
clothes they need, they have limited supplies of sheets and towels, plates and
bowls, cutlery and other essentials.  The
products most in demand other than food are toilet paper and soap — basics so
many of us take for granted.  There is a
toy cupboard for kids – and a health supply of baby needs like diapers,
formula, and baby food as well.  This
program must be saviour for so many people – over 800 a month in this one
neighbourhood alone!

They are my saviour as well this day – I
let them know I have brought no food with me to Ottawa and they immediate
launch into action.  In 30 seconds I’m
offered more than I could possibly eat that night and the next morning.  I am so happy to have three little apples, a
package of instant oatmeal, two granola bars, some instant fettuccine noodles,
a drink box of fresh juice, and a frozen dinner with real potatoes and
corn!  That microwave in my hotel room
will come in handy!

I make a small donation before leaving,
pledge to tell our members in the Ottawa area about this program’s great work,
and thank all three of these wonderful people before heading off to greedily
eat the very best apple I have ever tasted.

11:00 PM

Back at the Hotel after a local debate
in the municipal elections – “So You Think You Can Mayor”.  Cute name  – and a packed house. Chance to the leading
candidates for mayor what they would do on social issues like recreation,
childcare, housing and public transportation.

Actually the incumbent mayor – Larry
O’Brien – who was up on charges of corruption last year – didn’t think these
issues were important enough to come to the debate.  One other of the 4 top candidates also
decided this wasn’t important – so they have the next top four.  Naturally there is one guy who keeps talking
about the need to privatize, that public sector workers are the problem, that
there is no new money to help with programs and the only way to deliver them is
to sell them to the private sector – but in Ottawa he is booed loudly and
clearly!  I love Ottawa.

There is much debate on what to do with
the money the city will have available to it because of the “uploading” of
social services costs.  The Harris Tories
did this horrible thing where they downloaded the costs of providing social
assistance to municipalities, who had to fund it on their municipal tax
base.   A crazy idea since the provincial
government is the one that has the true taxing authority needed to fund a
program that is essentially about redistribution the wealth.  As the province slowly (way too slowly)
uploads these costs back the provincial books, municipalities will have
available resources they used to spend on these costs for other things.

Housing – recreation – childcare –
public transportation – all good ideas and all needed services.  The other main contenders seem to suggest
they will do what is right and spend this money on services people need.  The people of Ottawa have to be vigilant to
make sure they elect someone Mayor who will do just that.

Wednesday October 6 – Day three


I’m flying to Windsor today to meet with
our members in a local area leadership meeting – early flight so not a lot of
time in the morning.  I grab some coffee
(thank goodness for those 5 free pantry items) and head out the door and to the
airport.  I was so busy thinking about my
day and what I need to do today that I didn’t think about what food to take
with me….I’m sure I’ll regret that


Finished my meeting with our members –
talked about the “Do the Math” challenge and our members in Windsor were, as
always, engaged and supportive – some even worried about me and how I’ll manage
with my crazy schedule – which was very nice. 
Actually I’m starting to wonder the same thing.

I had planned to go meet with Ray at the
Voices Against Poverty Downtown Mission and have lunch there – but I got bumped
from my plane, got to the Windsor meeting late. 
That meant by the time I was done my presentation to the meeting that I
had to get back to the airport.  I’m
sorry I missed the chance to visit this program – it sounds amazing.  It’s an active part of the “Pathways to
Potential – Windsor Essex County Poverty Reduction Strategy”. 

I brought no food with me.  Really I couldn’t figure out how to take soup
or pasta with me on the plane in a way where I’d be able to eat it on the
go.  So I’ve had no lunch – or breakfast
for that matter – and I’m starting to get hungry.

4:30 PM

I rushed home after landing at the
airport and before the next thing on my schedule at 5:00 in order to eat
something.  I was so hungry I was
actually light headed.  Made some yummy
tomato red pepper soup – made all the more yummy I think because of just how
empty my stomach was.  I’m humbled to
remember that there are literally thousands of people in our province who
experience the same think everyday – real hunger.  It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this
real hunger.

It reminds me of two things – first as a
university student, working three jobs to put myself through school, coming
from a family with no ability to help me financially, I often went without
eating for whole days.  Not healthy – but
when you’re in your twenties you do many things that aren’t healthyJ.  I’m not sure now how I held
down three part time jobs and a full course load and often didn’t have healthy
and nutritious food to fuel my long days. 
It’s a very sad statistic that many food banks and food cupboards keep –
the number of students using their services. 

Tuition is so much higher today then it
was in the mid-eighties when I went to school. 
Kids from working class families are less likely to attend school, and
if they do they are certainly way more likely to multi-task and work while they
study.  And in Ontario we have one do the
lowest provincial contributions to post secondary education compared to other
provinces – even though we are the largest and we have an economy in absolute
transition where the workforce of the future will need more education.  Sometimes I really wonder what the hell the government
is thinking….

11:00 PM

Finally heading to bed after a long
day.  I went to a fundraising event
tonight and realized again, as I have all week, how food is EVERYWHERE.  Lovely little egg rolls and cheese and smoked
salmon – none of which I touched and all of which I desired.  After the event a number of our members who
are very active in the election campaign were going for drinks and bite to eat
– I declined because I can’t do that this week based on the challenge.  It makes me remembers times in my life when I
didn’t have the money to head out and eat with friends – like literally
hundreds of thousands of people in our communities. 

Then I headed to a vigil called for
queer youth who have committed suicide because of homophobic violence where
some 1,200 people showed up with only a few days notice on facebook –
amazing.  Saw many of our members
there.  After the vigil we marched to
Queen’s Park where we were reminded that the Liberal government backed out of a
sex education curriculum that would have helped to address the challenges queer
and trans youth face school.  A cowardly
act based on pressure from a very few religious groups.  Just like how cowardly it is that the
McGuinty government have never restored the over 20% cut to social assistance
rates that the Tories under Harris were so quick to implement.

A number of folks headed out for a drink
and to just be with one another – to feel that sense of community.  I didn’t go – I explained the challenge and
naturally people offered to buy me a drink or encouraged me to come along
anyway.  Many of them had stories where
they remember being in a similar situation – with no money to be able to
socialize even briefly with friends.

I head home – I’m tired anyway and hungry
again – my eating schedule is really messed up. 
I make some pasta and put plum sauce on it and add a few chick peas – a
new taste sensation.

It reminds me of being young – when my
father was unemployed in the recession in the early eighties and we made due
with little.  After his EI ran out we
were on Social Assistance for quite a while – and we relied on food hampers
from local churches to help see us through. 
Many a ketchup sandwich was eaten in those days – or bowls of macaroni
with nothing on it but margarine and salt.


Tuesday October 4 – Day Two

7:00 AM

started the day off with coffee – one of my allowable pantry items – and some
arrowroot cookies with peanut butter on them. 
Thank goodness for the peanut butter – not sure how I’d be getting
protein without it.  The volunteer at the
food cupboard at the Metropolitan United Church where I got my provisions made
sure I had it – when he found out I was supposed to live on the food I was
getting from them for a week he found me the peanut butter.  “Take this”, he said “You’ll need it – you
can’t live on soup alone”. 

He has
this same caring approach with all the people who visit that program – while
Bill the Program Director was giving us a tour a woman stopped him to share a
compliment about how welcoming and helpful he always is.  He’s been volunteering for the food cupboard
two days a week for a long time – he knows the people who rely on this program
– and he watches out for them – including me!

12:30 PM

having lunch with other labour leaders and representatives of unions who are
part of the meetings I’m in today.  They
are sandwiches and salad that have been brought in for them – a working
lunch.  I don’t partake – I can’t –
them’s the rules.  Instead I have the
meal I made for myself from my supplies – elbow macaroni with chick peas. I
added some Olive Oil – I hope that counts as one of the five pantry items I’m

OK – I
have to come clean – I also cut up a tomato and mixed it in!  I was trying to convince myself this is one of
the pantry items that I can use but I think that’s stretching it.  I just couldn’t imagine a whole day with out
any fruits or veggies.   That is the
absolute reality for thousands of families and I know it – now more than every

I talked
with my colleagues about the Do the Math challenge and encourage them to check
out the website.  I let them know that
close to a 1,000 people from all walks of life are taking the challenge – half
the NDP Provincial Caucus, candidates and incumbents in the upcoming elections,
artists and community leaders.  Surely
all of these people are discovering what I am – that it’s not easy to survive
and thrive on this kind of diet.

7:00 PM

I’m at
home – made a can of soup for dinner again.  
It’s also expired but it doesn’t taste like tin can – thank goodness.  Also hade some of the cheddar rice puffs that
I got – very high in sodium – salty like mad actually. 

the economic downturn – the loss of jobs and the hardships that so many people
have experienced in the last few years – I guess it’s not completely surprising
that food bank usage has increased by close to 20% since last fall.  Fully 70% of those who use food banks have
accessed the services for the two years or less – two years is a long time –
and it coincides with the economy taking a nose dive.  But has any level of government done any
thing to increase support?

shocking to me that McDonald’s operates 110 outlets in Toronto and the Daily
Bread Food Bank supports more than 170 community based agencies that run over
200 food relief programs (both food banks and meal programs).  That’s right – there are more food banks than

Soon to bed
for me – to Windsor tomorrow to meet with our members there and hopefully visit
a program run in that commuity.

Monday October 3 – Day One

6:30 AM

No fresh
fruit for me today.  I’m allowed 5 “panty
items” so I’m making coffee one of them – that was breakfast.  Off to a press conference today to kick off
this week of “Do the Math”. 

So happy
that one of our board members – Jenn Mizerovsky – has agreed to take on the
challenge as well – and she’s even convinced her daughter and mom to it too.

10:30 AM

I just
finished and amazing press conference at Queen’s Park to kick off the “Do the
Math” challenge.  Mike Balkwill who is
helping to coordinate the challenge did a great job setting up the back drop
and banners and assembling a powerful panel of speakers.  Video clips of the presentation will be
available soon!

Toronto Star and the Canadian Press showed up – some good questions from the
Star reporter – but I sure hope they publish something.

needs to be shone on the fact that – as I said at this press conference – fully
one third of those using food banks in Ontario are employed full or part
time.  We must acknowledge what many of
our locals already know to be true – that in CUPE we represent many casual or
relief members who cannot always get enough hours at their workplaces to
achieve enough money to feed themselves and their families. 

challenge is absolutely about increasing social assistance rates – no
question.  That’s its main goal.  But there are far too many people in our
Province going hungry and using food banks who are also working.  It’s unbelievable that the provincial
government – that gave away 4.3 billion dollars in tax breaks to corporations
in its spring budget – would have cut the special diet allowance to those on
social assistance to provide money for healthy, nutritious food.

1:00 PM

We just
finished a fantastic rally in Peterborough attended by hundreds of our members
from every sector, and in concert with the local labour council and the local
and Ontario Health Coalitions – on cuts being implemented at the Peterborough

local there, Local 1943, hosted a wonderful BBQ for all those who came to the
rally – with food and drink for all.  I
didn’t partake – as per the rules of the challenge – and it was difficult!  Food is about celebration – breaking bread
with those you know and work with is an important element in our culture to
thank each other and to build solidarity. 

travelled to the demonstration with Yolanda Mclean – our Second Vice President
– and she is also coming along with me to “Our Space” – a program I have been
hooked up with in Peterborough where I can get a meal.  I’m looking forward to it – for many reasons
– but I’m also very hungry — I haven’t eaten today.

3:30 PM

and I just left Our Space – an amazing program operated out of the basement of
building on George Street North in Peterborough.  When we arrived we met Janet McHugh the
Program Director who showed us around and talked to us about the program. 

It’s an
amazing multiuse space – their mission statement says “Our Space is a community
centre that welcomes everyone.  It is
planned and run by people who live in poverty and/or are aware of poverty
issues.  Our strength comes from our
people who share their talents, skills, life experiences, and time.  It is a safe and caring place where people
treat each other with dignity and respect. 
Our Space strives to either help lift pole out of poverty or make life
more agreeable for people who are unable to escape poverty.”

We had a
lovely mean of bread, salad with fresh veggies (Yahoo!) and half an avocado
with sour cream – with hot coffee, cool drinks and cookies for dessert.  A feast! 
And a great chance to meet many of those who were there – we talked and
ate – and we were lucky enough to meet a couple of the members of the Our Space
Board of Directors – founders of the program – Margaret Wright and Lori Sainte.
(Picture of us together – Margaret is the blond)

This one
program offers food from 10 AM to 4 PM everyday, a clothing exchange, access to
computers and telephones, crafts and skills training, massage and health advice
including dentistry, and also arranges community outings for people.  They are a community – with caring and
inspiring people – and it was a privilege to share a meal with people, see this
wonderful program that operates on a shoe string budget, and enjoy the warmth
of their hospitality.

Space has a web site at and I pledged to circulate
information about this program to our locals in the area and encourage them to
volunteer and donate to Our Space and the good work they do in this

7:00 PM

heating up a can of soup from my supplies – its expired based on the date on
the can but the volunteer who helped me to get the food let me know that many
of the items are donated to food banks because the cans are dented or the dates
are past – but not to worry – he assured me it would still be OK to eat.

tasted like tin can truth be told – and I used the second of my allowable
pantry items (I hope) and put some crackers into the soup.  Not a great dinner to say the least – but I
know its like a better dinner than some of the over 300,000 families who are
forced to use food banks every month in our Province.

I need to go to bed early tonight – I’m
exhausted from the drive and the rally – but mostly I think from not having
access to the same “fuel” I would normally feed myself with. 

Friday October 1 Noon

I went
to get my food hamper today – or as close as I could get.  While I was not too surprised to find a
number of community food banks operating literally half a block from where I
live, none of them had hours of operation that I could fit into my schedule to
actually go and pick up a food hamper.

I went to the Metropolitan United Church at the corner of Church and Queen
Streets and met Bill Chapman, their Program Director, who showed me around
their multi-service facility and led me to their food cupboard.

church offers a meal program that feeds between 75 to 150 people a day – as
well as a crafts drop in, housing support, clothing exchange, an on site
program run cooperatively with CAMH  for
mental health support, and food cupboard. 
The food cupboard is unique in that people can come and pick any 7 items
that they need from what is available and they can come back more than one time
per week.

this was my only trip I was allowed to take more – So I have the following to
live on for the next week:

-a bag
of cheddar rice puffs

– a can
of cream of mushroom soup

– two
cans of chicken and sponge bob square pants pasta soup

– a
small jar of peanut butter

– a
sleve of arrowroot cookies

– a
granola bar – chocolate chip

– a box
of elbow macaroni

– a can
of mixed vegetables

– a
large bottle of plum sauce

– a can
of chick peas

– a
tetra pack of tomato red pepper soup

I am grateful for the experience – to meet Bill
and the others who work and volunteer at this amazing multi-service
program.  I was inspired by their spirit,
their positive energy, their caring.  And
I felt guilty as hell taking food that I know others so desperately need
(although I understand its part of the entire experience!).  I made a healthy donation to their good work
and strongly encourage others to do so.

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