Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The importance of connection

The poverty challenge has come to a close and I would like to begin my final post by thanking everyone who followed our blogs, asked questions, provided comments, and offered me rides, snacks and kindness. I know that I have a very strong network of loving and caring individuals around me and that if ever I ran into trouble I'd have people there to support me.

There are so many amazing individuals, groups, taskforces and organizations working to address the causes of poverty, support those living in poverty, and decrease social barriers to health in our communities. If you are able, I recommend offering up your time and/or resources. I know I will; this challenge has been eye-opening.

A couple more notes...

  • Getting around is tough but it doesn't have to be. We need active communities that support physically active lifestyles and include community spaces for people to be active (at no or low cost) such as parks, recreation centres, sidewalks/walking paths, bike lanes, open spaces, trails, waterfronts. And we need public transportation options that are affordable, reliable and link people to community spaces like recreation centres, sports fields, grocery stores, and parks. Additionally, this would help to better connect people living on a low income to other services like the library, employment services, meal programs, etc.
  • Cost of eating - I love that food can bring people together - community dinners, family meals, neighbourhood potlucks, food festivals. I saw the same thing happening during the challenge with people coming together to offer and enjoy meals. However, when planning a menu and shopping on a low budget, I didn't feel the same joy I normally do around food. It was stressful, I had to cut out my normal go-to items (healthy and unhealthy 😀 ) and significantly cut down on the variety of foods I bought. It would be exhausting to have to think about food like this day in and day out, especially if you were feeding a family. Check out my previous blog about the need for increased social assistance so that everyone has access to affordable, nutritious and culturally appropriate foods. 
NOTE: Lentil pasta sauce, you and I are going to need to take a break for a while, 4 days was a bit too much... 
  • The working poor - According to Living Wage Canada, 70% of Canadians living in poverty are working poor. This means that they are in the workforce (they may even be working multiple jobs!) but are still not able to make ends meet. If you have not already, find out more about basic income guarantee, which will be piloted in Ontario, and the benefits it can offer individuals, families and whole communities.

I'd like to end with a beautiful video from Brene Brown about the power of empathy. The poverty challenge offered us a slight glimpse into what life in poverty could feel like. But, like all of us have mentioned in our blogs, we realize that we have the luxury of returning to our 'normal' lives after just 5 days. This experience has offered a valuable lesson in empathy, letting go of judgement and trying to see the world through the perspective of others.

Be kind, give generously, and be grateful for all that you have. 

                                     'Empathy fuels connection... it's feeling WITH people.'

The Cost of Eating in Northwestern Ontario

Each year, the Northwestern Health Unit does a survey of grocery stores in the region to determine the cost of eating well in Northwestern Ontario. We share these results with the community, other services providers and local politicians in order to raise awareness and push for increased social assistance and policies that support individuals to live in dignity. No one should ever need to choose between food or rent. Access to healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food is a right.

Sharing an email circulated by one of my amazing co-workers:

The struggle to put healthy food on the table is a reality for many people and families in northwestern Ontario. Each year the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) surveys grocery stores in our region to determine the cost of healthy food.  According to the 2016 Nutritious Food Basket results the cost per month to feed a family of four is $1018.20. This is an increase of 11.1% since 2010.

As the cost of living increases, incomes are not keeping pace. There is a misconception that the (increasing) cost of food is the reason why families/people can’t afford healthy foods.  The real issue is that minimum wage and social assistance rates are not keeping pace with the increasing food (and everything else like rent, hydro, gas, etc.) costs. Since 2010, minimum wage has increased only 9.8%.

Check out the health unit website for more info. 

 Infographic from Northwestern Health Unit website.

Want to learn more? Check out the links below.

Messy hair, don't care?

Yesterday morning (... bit behind in my blogging!) I opened a challenge card that said 'you lost your hairbrush'. I'd had a shower the evening prior so my hair was a bit wild when I woke up so this challenge card definitely popped up on the right day! Fortunately after brushing my fingers through my hair and walking to work with a hat on my hair settled down. Over lunch hour I was able to buy a hairbrush for $2.25 and I also purchased a box of bandaids for $2.58 since walking so much has been reeking havoc on my heels (Good socks and footwear are needed for walking a lot but high quality products would be out of the question on an OW budget!). Both purchases put a lot of stress on a small budget!

Sam made some confessions in her blog and I definitely should make one quick one right now. I ate a significant amount of chocolate yesterday*. A coworker gave me a lovely Valentine's Day gift pack (that also included nuts and fruit!!) and I indulged. And friends at skiing planted some valentine's treats on the trails. I indulged again.

The challenge wraps up today at 4pm. Stay tuned for a few more blogs including an overall reflection of the experience.

Updating my $55 budget:
Food - $23.50
Transportation - $4 (drove to skiing; accepted a ride home from a friend)
Cell phone - $12.50
Hair brush & bandaids - $4.83
Birthday meet up with friends - $4.50 (drive there and purchase of a tea)
Remaining - $5.67
BUT if I counted soccer (Mondays) & skiing (Tuesdays) - $10 per session; $4 to drive there; $4 to drive to skiing
Remainder - $-12.33

* Kathy, my workplace chocolate go-to probably isn't surprised by this :)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Donating in Kenora

Below is a list of some of the service providers in Kenora who provide programs, meals and donated items to people in need. The challenge ladies and I encourage you to donate items, money or time to these organizations - every little bit counts. This is not an exhaustive list, but just a few services we have accessed with week or that came up in conversation with co-workers.

Minto Child Parent Resource Centre

  • Will accept: toiletries, baby and children's (and some women's) clothing for their 'give and take'
  • Monetary donations are always welcome (cash or cheque) - used to purchase resources for the centre, family activities and outings for low-income families
  • Call ahead - 468-3161; open 10-3:30 Tuesday to Friday, closed Monday

Women's Place Kenora

  • Will accept: donations of seasonal clothing for women & children, household & kitchen items, books of any kind
  • Do not accept: shoes, toys or men's clothing
  • Monetary donations are always welcome (cash or cheque)
  • Call ahead - 468-9095; open noon to 4 pm Monday to Thursday
  • Will accept: anything that people can wear - shoes, seasonal clothing, new underwear & socks; fresh and perishable food items; toiletries, toothbrushes and toothpaste, deodorant, pads and tampons
  • Monetary donations are always welcome (cash or cheque)
  • Call ahead - 468-5538
  • Will accept: food donations (i.e. meat, non-perishables), grocery gift cards ($25 cards are good since they can go to a family in need); seasonal clothing and footwear that is in good shape
  • Monetary donations are always welcome (cash or cheque), tax receipts available if over a certain amount
  • Call ahead - 407-3620; call if unsure an item you have can be donated. Also, Pastor Frank can help to directly like donators to a family in need
Churches offering food service in Kenora - contact for details: Knox United Church, St. Alban's, Lakeside Baptist, First Baptist

Kenora Homeless Shelter (Ne-Chee Friendship Centre)
  • Will accept: toiletries, toilet paper, new underwear and socks
  • Monetary donations are always welcome (cash or cheque)
  • Donations can be made to Ne-Chee Friendship Centre (call ahead to 468-5440 ext. 233) or to Northwestern Health Unit (Monday to Friday 8:30am to 4:30pm)
  • Will accept: toiletries (i.e. mini shampoos, conditioner and soaps)
  • Can be dropped off during operating hours - Monday to Friday 8:30am to 4:30pm
  • Will accept: unopened toiletries, new underwear, sanitary napkins; diapers
  • Monetary donations are always welcome (cash or cheque) - will go to shelter resources or to women/families transitioning out of the shelter
  • Call ahead - 468-1889
Also, check out the Philantro-bros, a pair of ambitious young men giving back to the community through various charitable projects.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Toilet floods & dress code violations

Challenge card: A toilet flood has ruined most of your clothes. You don't have the $ for laundry. Spend a day your most well-worn clothing.

I dug out my summer camp sweater from 2006 (I am not a hoarder, it has sentimental meaning!) and my old jeans and walked to work today. My outfit absolutely violated the dress code at my workplace, where jeans and relaxed clothing are only really allowed with manager permission or on our 'dress down Fridays'. (Staff can pitch in $2 to a local charity in order to get their denim on for the day. Consider giving it a try if you aren't already; it's an easy way for your workplace to support a local charity together 😀 ).

I work in an office and today I didn't have any video conferences. Really only a few of my coworkers and members of the public saw me in my older clothing. If I were working in a service job, a job that required a lot of interaction with members of the public, or a job that required me to wear a uniform this challenge would have been a struggle. I'm assuming that my uniform would be among the clothing that was ruined in the flood. Hopefully I'd have a supportive supervisor at work whom I could call and work through the issue with. Perhaps they have spare uniforms, or maybe I could have the day off to deal with the flood, handwash or soak a few of my clothes in the bathtub, or figure out a free way to get my laundry done.

I don't really think that this challenge card would be a one day issue. I'd wear my older clothes to work, but then how will I eventually wash everything if I don't have enough money? (Check out Sam's blog about the ridiculous cost of doing laundry at the laundry mat in town.) It would likely be a better option to chuck the clothes that have been ruined and visit Women's Place Kenora, the Salvation Army (currently under renovations), Jubilee ChurchFellowship Centre or Minto Parent Child Resource Centre to see if they have donated clothing that I can use to piece together a new wardrobe AND if they have any cleaning products to help me to clean up any mess from the flood.

Challenge card: You received a rebate in the mail. $2.00.

I received this challenge card on Sunday but carried it over to today when I could make a phone call to the OW case worker at Kenora District Services Board (KDSB). Here's what I found out about my rebate and my dead microwave:

  • Not everyone on OW has a bank account, some receive their funds as a cheque that then needs to be cashed at a 'quick cash' type business. These businesses most often take a cut of the cheque amount as a fee or service charge. If I didn't have a bank account, I'm not sure what my rebate cheque would look like after cashing it through a quick cash service? Perhaps with an amount as small as $2 I'd be lucky and they would wave the service charge. Reporting of any rebates or winnings was recommended by the OW case worker that I spoke with so I would need to include my rebate on my monthly income reporting statement.
  • OW discretionary benefits help individuals to repair or replace essential appliances such as fridges and stoves. However, a microwave is considered a luxury item and is not covered under these benefits. I would be out of luck or searching for a used or very cheap microwave to replace mine. And then I would need to carry it home from wherever I get it.

It's amazing how much I can feel that people around me want to help me with the challenge - lots of love and support. I realize that if I were in a situation where I was really struggling financially I would have a lot of different people and communities within Kenora to turn to. I can't even begin to imagine how lonely it would feel to have no one to turn to and nowhere to go.

Just a note, Northwestern Health Unit's harm reduction nurses save up mini toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, soap), deodorant, toothbrushes, and pads and tampons for clients that they see on- or off-site through the Needle Exchange Program and their outreach programming. (Thank you to my coworker for sharing this info!) This seems to be the case for other service providers as well; they try their best to stock up on resources that they can offer to anyone in need, no questions asked.

To ski or not to ski...

If you need to find me on a Saturday during the winter, head on down to the Kenora nordic trails at Mt Evergreen. I have found a home in the Kenora Nordic & Biathlon Club (KNBC) community (shameless plug!?) where I help out as a coach for the kids Jackrabbit ski program as well as the adult ski program. Skiing has been a way to stay active, meet new people with shared interests, and feel connected to the community, which I find can be particularly difficult in the winter time.

This week I'm looking at the ski world from a different perspective: would it be feasible on an OW budget?
  • Get the gear! There are ways around the cost of ski equipment. Yard sales and asking around to neighbours or friends could help to dig up a cheap or free set of ski gear. Also, if I reached out to the KNBC executive they would most definitely assist me in tracking down a set of cheap or free skis, boots and poles. 
  • Dressing for the weather - It would also be important to have warm clothing for hitting the trails, which could be a barrier. I'd be relying on donated winter clothing to piece together my ski outfit.  Women's Place Kenora would be a great place to start as they provide access to women's clothing to those in need.
  • Getting there - For the challenge I will accept the $4 penalty for driving out to Mt Evergreen in my car. Another option would be to hitch rides with another participant (for the challenge that would also be a $4 penalty). It is important for a community to have public transportation options that can like people and families to physical activity opportunities. The city bus does not go as far as Mt Evergreen and according to Google maps the walk will take 1.5 hours.  At times, I can be a bit intense about physical activity, but that's just too much, especially carrying ski gear!
  • I love cheap hills (and flats) - The trek to Mt Evergreen would be a major barrier if I was on OW because I wouldn't be able to afford a vehicle. Fortunately, there are lots of options for skiing within Kenora though - Rabbit Lake, golf course, the creek, beside any of the ice roads, Tunnel Island - so once the gear is acquired skiing becomes a much more accessible option.
  • Volunteer perks - As a coach, I am able to use the KNBC trails for free on that day, which is really great. If I was able to secure a regular shared ride to the club, then I could hit the trails in my low-cost/free gear after the lesson wrapped up. Committing to long-term volunteer opportunities is currently a feasible option for me, but that might not be the case if I was on a tighter budget. I likely wouldn't be able to say that I can offer 2 to 4 hours of my Saturday for 10 weeks. However, I could donate my time in small chunks in exchange for reduced ski options.

Something else important to share... When chatting with the KNBC president, Greg Richardson, he highlighted that the main goal of the club is to get people skiing. While registration numbers are important for club funding, the ultimate goal is to facilitate ski development for beginners, school groups, or recreational skiers, all the way up to the elite racers. Whether or not it is happening right on the KNBC trails is irrelevant. I'm proud to be a member of a club with a mandate such as this because access to sport and recreation is a part of building a healthy and resilient community.

SUMMARY - I could make skiing work for me, but it would be a lot of effort at first. And I might be best to ski in town.

TAKE HOME MESSAGE: I have never had to think about money this way before. I'm constantly adding up in my head what a particular activity could cost, whether I should buy a food item or not - what if something comes up and I need the money for it? - and how I will actually get from point A to B.

Total buget: $55
Food: $23.50
Cell phone: $12.50
Skiing with borrowed gear & volunteer coaching: $4 transportation fee
Remainder: $13

Cost of skiing without own gear: $10 day pass, $20 rental, $4 travel
Potential remainder: $-15 -- definitely not in my budget!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Shared meals & winter walks

Casey, Kirsi, Sam and I met for lunch today at Jubilee Church. We had the pleasure of chatting with Pastor Frank Kowal and his wife, Lynn, who are two or the most selfless and loving individuals I have ever met. Lynn shared the story of the church's humble beginnings and how it has grown into a strong and welcoming community hub for Kenora.

Several churches in Kenora provide a full meal at Jubilee every Sunday afternoon on a rotating basis, and Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Saturday evening the church is either open to provide a meal or to offer a warm space for patrons to spend time. It was amazing how many people came together today to share in a service, food, and conversation. There were people of all ages and backgrounds, and lots of people pitched in with set-up and take down. Just like the pancake breakfast, this visit to Jubilee allowed me the opportunity to meet some new people and reconnect with Frank and a few other service providers that I haven't seen very often since my first year with the health unit.

(I forgot to take a Jubilee photo to share, but I saw the picture above and it immediately made me think of the Jubilee Church community)

An additional surprise was being able to catch up with someone that I met through work with Right to Play Canada. Actually, it was that job that brought me to Northwestern Ontario for the first time back in 2012! He met the whole YPN crew and provided us with a very personal account of his journey from his home community to Kenora, where he now lives. In the conversations I've had with patrons since the beginning of the challenge I'm continually humbled by their openness and willingness to share their stories with us, even the parts that were likely really painful for them.

Sam and I shared a beautiful sunny walk on the creek today which gave us a great opportunity to reflect together on the challenge so far. I'm really struggling with feelings of guilt about the privilege that I have as a white, educated woman. Why is it fair that I'm here, in my current life, and so many of my fellow community members are struggling to get by day-to-day? This challenge is teaching me gratitude in an emotional and overwhelming way. Since the challenge began I have been constantly humbled by the warmth of volunteers and patrons that we have encountered, and the ability of individuals to give and give and give their time and love for others. I am so fortunate to lead the life I do and that the poverty challenge spans 5-days not a lifetime.

This whole experience would be lonely and significantly more difficult without community, friendship and the generosity of others. Lunch was provided by a hardworking group of volunteers actively working to support those living in poverty and I was able to enjoy it in the company of Casey, Kirsi, Sam and the Jubilee Crew. Thank you to Sam for sharing your company and donated Kraft Dinner with me tonight - it means a heck of a lot to me!

Be sure to check out SamCasey and Kirsi's blogs as well. It was a big day for all of us featuring a walk from Keewatin to Kenora for a sockless Casey!

Note: Eggs explode when you leave them on the stove to boil and then forget about them while you blog.  To my landlord who will 100% read this, I cleaned it up! 

Updating my budget:
Food - $23.50
Transportation - $4 (drove to skiing; accepted a ride home from a friend)
Cell phone - $12.50
Remaining - $15.00