I rushed into the grocery store to pick up ‘just a few things’ and began absentmindedly flinging items into my basket at will.
That’s when I noticed a young mother carefully walking through the store judiciously choosing items: a half-carton of eggs; one discounted loaf of bread; a can of tuna.
I stopped dead in my tracks, looked into my basket and realized I didn’t need a thing inside.
I also recalled years of shopping exactly as this young mom did. Meticulously measuring my wallet against my list and knowing the wallet would win.
My partner and I used to save quarters to buy groceries as we tried to live on one income while raising two children. Our lack of money was self-imposed to be sure, but I still remember the deliberate need to pinch every penny.
I learned the knack young. My parents sometimes collected pop bottles to buy groceries when I was a preschooler. They retell the stories now as a marker of their unexpected success at managing to feed their brood during lean times. Although, I do recall bags of groceries full of ‘just a few things’ sent home from my grandmother after our visits to East Vancouver every Sunday.
Still, these experiences pale beside those living under the B.C. poverty line today, as noted in a well-researched 2017 Child Poverty Report Card issued by the child advocacy coalition First Call.
More than 50,000 children under age five live in families who just can’t make ends meet. Our child poverty rates are staggering, with more than one in five children living poor. In single-parent families, that number rises to one in four.
I’ve been learning more about these amazing parents lately as part of some fundraising I’ve been doing for the Haney Farmers’ Market Nutritional Coupon program. We are aiming to support a few local families to buy food from the market through proceeds from the book Sustenance, an anthology of creative writing about food.
I might not seem earth shattering compared to the overwhelming need. But what I’ve learned in these last few months is that there is no ‘big picture’ when you are a parent waking up every day with one thing on your mind – how to feed your young children.
You can’t eat statistics.
You can, however, be buoyed by community.
But just like parents, communities get tired, too.
First Call’s report points to the need for systemic change to lift these children out of poverty. There’s been some recent movement at both the provincial and federal levels to tackle issues such as child tax benefits, childcare spaces, and even minimum wage changes. But it’s not enough.
We need to remind politicians that the research says we will all benefit from a comprehensive $10-a-day daycare. We need to lobby for more tax reform, immediate affordable social housing, a stronger child benefit.
I get exhausted just thinking about what needs to be done.
But then, I remember how tired that young mother looked in the grocery store and how she kept going one aisle at a time.
I figure maybe those of us able to fill our carts and our stomachs with ease can do a little something to take a bite out of the issue.
– Lynn Easton writes for the Ridge Meadows Early Childhood Development Committee.