I enter into day 6 of the welfare challenge feeling pretty optimistic. I just restocked on groceries and still have $3 to spare! I have a lot of tofu left and a couple of eggs for protein. I’m currently making some squash soup and applesauce, I’m pretty sick of eating apples. So don’t worry mom and dad and all other concerned parties, I’m not starving.
The turning point was day 3. I no longer had a caffeine headache! The world was once again conquerable. I opted to forgo my morning run due to a general lack of energy. And since I would be biking to church later that morning, I knew I needed to conserve that energy for holier endeavours. Instead I slept as late as possible. That’s my latest welfare hack. The longer I sleep in, the fewer hours of hunger I face in the day. It makes me wonder about the assumption that people on welfare are inherently lazy. I say, “what came first, the chicken or the egg? The welfare or the lethargy?”
I had yet another frustratingly ironic situation on day three. While attending a convention about SROs (single room occupancies-known to be particularly scummy dwellings) that was complete with a trophy for the hotel that was nominated the scummiest in town, I was in room full of people who were actually on welfare. When they broke for lunch and served plates of homemade bannock and other goodies, I could not partake. This was the third time in three days that this had happened. Talk about temptation! It does make space for conversation and further insight into my experience. One woman recounted when she would sacrifice many of her own rations to make sure her kids ate. Another thing that this frustrating rule highlighted is how fortunate I am to be able to access support so readily. I am able and capable to volunteer and get involved in things that in turn reward me with food and the occasional handshake. I have friends and a community that readily share resources. I am in a neighborhood were food flows freely. These are all privileges that I try not to take for granted.
On the evening of the third day, we celebrated this sense of community at our weekly potluck. We were all uncertain how to host a potluck on a welfare budget, so we decided that as long as we each brought something to the potluck out of our budget, we could eat our fill of what was brought to the table. It was challenging and humbling to create a dish worthy of serving to friends, but I scraped together some fried potatoes and peppers. And when everyone brought out of our poverty, we created a full and diverse meal. And it was good. So good that I was sure I was cheating! Full of gratitude for the abundance that comes with community, full of insight and a sense of solidarity with friends, full of good food, that day was the game changer.
What a great way to enter day 4 and realize I was ahead on my budget. I celebrated this, and the fact that my body was coping exceptionally well with caffeine withdrawal by purchasing a $1 coffee at 7-11. It was the BEST. I got the most bang for my buck by choosing the largest size and making it last over 2 days. It was easy to make it last so long. I’m a sipper and savourer of beverages as it is – I remember my mom getting frustrated with me for neglecting half full (empty?) cups of coffee. It wasn’t so much about consuming the coffee, it was the comfort of knowing it was there. I have been privileged with the middle-class value of security and saving for later. Pantries and freezers and cost-co runs are evidence of this. It is so unsettling to be without. Just knowing that there is half a cup of coffee in the fridge right now puts me at ease. It brings a new meaning to Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:34 “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” I am realizing that this advice is less for those who know poverty, because they heed this already! They awake each morning not sure how they will be provided for this new day, only sure that they have been sustained thus far. That is faith! Perhaps these words that bring affirmation to the poor come with a reprimand to us middle-class and our save up for tomorrow mentality. Just a thought I’m chewing on (although I’d rather be chewing on nachos).
And here I am on day 6 and the end is in sight! My roommates and I just called an impromptu meeting to discuss our celebration (cough*splurging*cough) when we complete. I’m torn between greasy westernize Chinese food and McDonalds. Really, this impending freedom is the light at the end of the tunnel that has gotten me through since day 3. And now I understand this splurge-starve cycle that often rules the lives of my friends in this neighborhood. Ironically, today is welfare Wednesday here – the day that welfare cheques are distributed for the month. So while I’m still penny pinching until the end, my friends have arrived! They completed this challenge for a whole month. Not only that, they have signed up to do it again next month! So the streets were eerily empty today as they tend to be on welfare Wednesdays – devoid of soup line ups and congregations outside of community centers. Not wanting to eat potatoes for 2 months straight, they are out celebrating another month of surviving the welfare challenge, marking and remarking this milestone with every flip of the calendar page.