Stacey Tyers could only buy these food items with the $21 allowed for one week’s meals during the Welfare Food Challenge.

Stacey Tyers could only buy these food items with the $21 allowed for one week’s meals during the Welfare Food Challenge.

Welfare rates leave bad taste

Terrace residents who took part in the Welfare Food Challenge learned first-hand what it's like to live with only $21 each week for food.

  • Nov. 24, 2014 7:00 p.m.

Terrace residents who took part in the third annual Welfare Food Challenge discovered how difficult it is to get by when you have only $21 per person each week for food.

“Things I learned: difficult to live on $21 a week for food, my teenager refused to participate but realized about two days in we weren’t buying extra food for him so it gave him the ability to use his own money for food,” said Kathy Buell, a nurse, who took part with her husband and two children.

“Needless to say, some challenging arguments in the house, which I am sure happens in families when food is scarce.”

The Welfare Food Challenge is held annually by Raise the Rates, a coalition of community groups and organizations concerned with the level of poverty and homelessness in B.C.

The amount of $21 each week for food per person is determined by welfare rates, the group says have been frozen at $610 per month for several years. So by the time a person pays for rent, damage deposit, 10 bus tickets and a cell phone to help with looking for work, and personal hygiene/laundry supplies, the amount left for food is about $84 per month.

Local poverty law advocate Stacey Tyers took a photo of the items she could buy for her $21.

“I had to put back most of my rice, a yam and couscous,” said Tyers, adding that she still went over budget by several cents.

“To balance my going over budget, I will remove a little pasta and a little more rice.”

During the week, Tyers, Buell and others who took part posted their experiences on Facebook.

“I’m so sick of beans and lentils already. I just want a burger,” said Tyers on her second day.

“Biggest challenge: not buying my coffee and not eating my cheese and crackers. Cheese is way too expensive on this budget,” said Buell.

Tyers said she lived on a low income as a single mom for years and has designed low income cooking classes but she still found this week to be a challenge.

“It was still really hard picking what to let go of when I was over [budget],” said Tyers, adding she was tired of eating the same food all week. “I still have some food left but I have no desire to cook it because there’s nothing I can do to make it taste different or good.”

She said afterward that spices and herbs would’ve made a difference.

Buell said she “caved” and ended up buying coffee after five days on the challenge.

And closer to the end of the week, they noticed changes in how they felt. “Family more irritable yesterday. I have been hiding out at work,” said Buell.

“I am counting the days and we are so fortunate to have our health, jobs, shelter and family.

“For those people who aren’t so lucky, the time needs to be now [to raise welfare rates].”