I’ve been asked to speak at the rally on November 15th. Put Food in the Budget and The Stop are holding a rally to wrap up the October Do the Math Challenge. We are going to have speakers and music and someone is creating a slide show. There were 350 people last year, so I’m really nervous and not sure yet that I can do it. LOL I’m sure I’ll pass out and die..right there… :S
I’ve been asked to speak to the question of *what this campaign means to me*.
I’m on Social Assistance, so that makes me an expert on this topic. No one can survive on the amount of money you are given on social assistance, so local services become very important. I discovered that location is everything. I recently moved to Scarborough. I was living downtown. I used to walk to a church winter program called *Out of the Cold*. We would make breakfast each morning through the week and dinner on weekend nights. I can no longer access these services as I would need $6.00 for each trip and I would have to travel long before 6 am. The bus service here doesn’t start until 6:45. I would go and eat and they often handed out food to take home. I can’t go to any of the food banks or drop ins that I used to use because they are based on your address. These are the reasons I had food before my move.
I got involved with South Riverdale Community Health Centre a year ago. We created a group called the Health and Strength Action Group. I started volunteering there because Social Assistance gives you an additional $100.00 if you can prove you volunteer somewhere. It’s supposed to be for transportation – for a metro pass that costs more than $100.00, but I use it for food. I was skeptical when I first joined. Yes, it all sounded good in theory – the fact that all humans have rights and should be allowed to eat, to have dignity, and health so I decided to stick with it. I used to feel ashamed of being on social assistance. If anyone asked where I worked I would tell them and quickly change the topic, avoiding eye contact, avoiding the scornful look that was sure to follow. I know that people think recipients are lazy, living off the system, and they have no desire to work – I even believed it. My self confidence, self esteem and self worth didn’t exist. In the beginning I was embarrassed to talk about this campaign. I thought I had no right to ask for the things we were demanding.
Since then I’ve been to rallies, handed out fliers, put up posters, attended meetings, spoken and sang in public, and I’ve listened. I’ve listened to all the people that now surround me and they are saying I have a right to eat a healthy diet. They are telling me that I’m a person and I count. I was at the first Do the Math report back, at the Barns, last year and to say that my eyes have since been opened is an understatement. In the year that has passed I truly understand how diet plays a key role in your mental and physical health. Watching the Do the Math Challenge unfold this time around has been astounding. Being involved in this campaign I have seen the changes, the solidarity and growing support, and I’ve seen opinions and misconceptions shift toward empathy and understanding once knowledge is gained about the harsh reality of trying to survive on social assistance. All of Ontario is saying the same things that I’ve been hearing all year! Imagine, it might just be true! Living on Social Assistance doesn’t have to be so painful and people in over 20 communities in and around Toronto will tell you that this is the case! The government would have us believe there is no money for feeding the people that vote them into office, or that they would have to choose between programs and someone else would have to do without. Apparently it isn’t important that you have strong, confident, healthy citizens that can contribute to society. The people don’t agree.
Being a part of this campaign means that I can hold my head up. I don’t feel ashamed and I believe with every fiber of my being that all people deserve food. It’s a basic right. I know I’m not alone anymore, and I walk with my self respect, my self esteem and my self worth in tact. I walk with all the people who are involved in this campaign, the people that are fighting for change. It gives me strength and confidence to know that people actually care. It took years for people to build up these biased notions of people wanting to be on assistance because it’s easier than working and it may take just as long to reverse this thinking and bring about change, but change is what we need because people are starving. Ask yourself if you could survive on $585.00 a month, take the math challenge, then try to look me in the eye and honestly say everything is ok.
What this campaign means to me is that people will be able to eat, they will be able to make healthy choices for their diets. It means that food banks will no longer be a necessity to survival. Winning this campaign means that we can all hold our heads high. I’m proud to be a part of this fight and I demand change. I also hope there’s no need to hold another rally next year!