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Down and out in Halifax and Dartmouth

Food banks, soup kitchens, and the people who use them

by Kendall Worth

Poverty activist Kendall Worth investigates some false claims about food banks and soup kitchens. Photo Robert Devet
Poverty activist Kendall Worth investigates some false claims about food banks and soup kitchens. Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) - Many people I talked to over the years have wrong ideas about food banks and soup kitchens, and what goes on there.

“Soup kitchens should only be used by homeless people, and the food banks are for those living on social assistance that do have a home,” they say.

So just out of curiosity, and for article research purposes, I have taken the time to visit some of these places.

The places here in the Halifax area where people living in poverty hang out at are not limited to the food bank next door to my building. Other places include Souls Harbour Rescue Mission, Metro Non Profit Coffee Shop, Grace Street Mission, Hope Cottage, and in downtown Halifax a drop-in at Saint Mary’s Basilica. There are others as well.

Also for registered member with Mental Health issues, there is another place called the Caring and Sharing Social Club.

What I find needs to be understood by wealthy people is that people use the service of soup kitchens is because they live in poverty, even if they are not homeless.

What's more, soup kitchens also serve as drop-in programs for all persons living in poverty. And people who use food banks are not limited to ESIA clients. Food bank services are also used by people who are on cpp disability, people who are working poor and even poor students who attend the local colleges and universities.

In fact, there are many wrong ideas quite a few wealthy people believe.

Some middle-class people who I personally know, who do not even know the people living in poverty from Adam, believe the following things:

  • Those on income assistance, instead of sitting at home and being lazy they choose to attend these drop-ins, and soup kitchens to sit there and be lazy.

  • If those on income assistance wants to go to soup kitchens they should only be there for the reason of volunteering, not to get something to eat.

  • Drug deals take place at these drop-ins and soup kitchens.

  • People who use these drop-ins and soup kitchen have no interest in wanting to someday get off income assistance.

I just want to say that I have learned from my personal experiences that none of above opinions are true.

From talking to people who use food banks and soup kitchens, I have learned that people living in poverty attend these places to reduce stigma and isolation.

Also, because they live in poverty, going to these places and using the food banks helps them budget their money better.

However, when I recently shared all this with certain middle-class people they stubbornly disagreed.

People like that simply do not care about people living in poverty at all.

Now I will say what I have actually learned from my personal experiences of using the food bank and attending the soup kitchens/drop-ins.

First I must confess that before I started going to these places myself I shared many of the bad opinions I just mentioned.

My personal story on when I started visiting the food bank as well as a couple of soup kitchens, began back in fall of 2013, when I had moved from my old Dartmouth address to my new Halifax address.

The building I had moved to, and where I still live at present, it so happens that there is a food bank right next door to my building. I always see people line up at that food bank a couple of times a week when that food bank is open.

I found it sad to see the amount of people standing in that line. Seeing the length of that line-up, just reminded me of how many people we have here in Halifax living in poverty.

Some of the drop-ins are actually also located in my area of Halifax. I have found that the people who use these services are also a community of people who know each other. They all have the fact of living in poverty in common with each other.

The only actual soup kitchen is Hope Cottage. Souls Harbour Rescue Mission is similar to a soup kitchen because they do offer free food to those living in poverty. However Souls Harbour also offers other stuff, such as support groups for people going through hard times, free clothing, entertainment, and social support.

I have actually talked to some people who attend Souls Harbour who mentioned to me they only go there for the socialization; they do not go there to eat.

Metro Non-Profit Coffee shop is a place where people who are having problems with their situations that makes them no choice in life but to have to live in poverty can go get support as a well as a hang out place to get a free coffee.

Grace Street Mission is a place where those living on poverty and the homeless who have an interest in religion can go.

The one place where the mandate is different is the Caring and Sharing Social Club. This place is a drop-in. However, the difference between this place and other drop-ins are the fact that to use Caring and Sharing you actually have to be a registered member.

However what Caring and Sharing has in common with these other places is the fact that the people who are registered members do live in poverty.

To become a registered member of Caring and Sharing, you have to have papers filled out by either a doctor or another mental health professional saying that you have mental health issues. Then the referral from the doctor or other mental health professional has to be approved by the club coordinator.

When I talked to contacts I have in the middle class community about the line-ups I see at the food bank next door next door to my building, the comment I used to get from them was “Kendall, remember those people are drug addicts and trouble makers of other types.”

What I have learned is even though it is true that there are drug addicts who go to these places, most who use the services are not drug addicts. Even those who are drug addicts are respectful enough not to be doing drugs while hanging out and using the services of these places. Drug dealers do not visit these places to make drug deals.

The most important thing that I have learned through personal experience is for the people who go there the experience has been nothing but positive.

Remember, people who live in poverty are normal people just like everybody else. Many have dreams of someday getting out of poverty.

 

See also: Let them drink shakes, an account of Kendall's difficulties in meeting special dietary requirements through local food banks.

 

 


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Topics: Poverty
1124 words

Comments

baseless stereotypes

I almost wish I hadn’t read this article. I try not to think of the prejudice and hatred so many “rich” people have for the poor. It fills me with rage, and that corrosive emotion was stirred up in me just now. It’s why I don’t talk to people like that or divulge my situation with them. I’ll only get abuse in return.

The ironic thing is there is a significant and growing problem with prescription drug addiction amongst the middle and upper class. Perhaps remind them of this the next time they accuse those on assistance of being drug addicts.

I don’t go to soup kitchens or food banks because I can’t afford the transportation costs, nor do I want to spend hours dealing with the Access-A-Bus service. If the bus that is supposed to take me home doesn’t show up, I have to take a cab. That cancels out the free food I would be getting. As well, I have many dietary restrictions and I cannot eat most of the food they would offer me. Also, I can’t carry any bags of food so I would only get what could fit into the bag that’s on the back of my wheelchair, which would be very little.

Years ago, I called every food bank in HRM to see if they had any volunteers who could deliver to me. I know some people may think that an unreasonable request but, as I just explained, it’s not feasible for me to go myself. Needless to say, they don’t. For a very short period of time, I had someone who went to one food bank a few times to pick up a box of food that had only items in it that I could eat. It was the only food bank that would give food to someone who did not show up in person. Unfortunately, that food bank closed a few months later.

Most of the food that Feed Nova Scotia distributes is high in sodium because it’s canned goods. Also, those who donate don’t pick out healthier choices but the cheapest ones, which are loaded with salt and sugar.

 

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