Samantha Truong: What I learned taking the Welfare Food Challenge

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      My name is Samantha Truong and I am a Vietnamese Chinese Canadian teenager who is participating in the third annual Welfare Food Challenge. This challenge started on World Food Day (October 16), and ends tomorrow (October 22). 

      During this past week, participants were challenged to live on only the food they could purchase with $21, as that is the amount of money people on welfare receive weekly.

      The goal is to show our government that $21 is not an adequate amount of money for food and that welfare rates need to be increased.

      Throughout my participation in this challenge, I noticed multiple changes in my daily routine. 

      First, I was often left hungry. This made it very difficult to focus in class and on my assignments. 

      Second, I was deprived of time. If I was not cooking something in the kitchen, I was comparing grocery flyers to find items on sale. Also, because I do not have a car, I had to take public transit. As a result, this decreased the time I had to spend on my studies and sleep. 

      Lastly, I was often left feeling more lethargic and less energetic, as I had to compromise a nutritious diet for a more cost-efficient one. 

      Through my lived experiences, I can say that living on $3 a day is clearly negatively effecting the individual and that that welfare rates need to go up. 

      In August 2014, there were 177,778 people on welfare in B.C.

      With less than $3 a day to spend on food, recipients of welfare are often if not always left hungry and malnourished. The dieticians of Canada state that for a basic healthy diet—with no luxuries such as coffee, et cetera—a healthy adult woman should spend around $200 per month while a man should spend around $250. That’s compared to the $84 people on welfare receive per month, which does not even meet half of the minimum requirement.

      Poverty costs the people of B.C. over $8 billion every year. Poverty cost the health system alone over $1.2 billion a year. The cost of a full anti-poverty program would be less than $4 billion—a savings of $4 billion in the money and huge savings in human well-being. So let’s stop this cycle because people living in poverty do not choose to be there.

      I took this challenge because I believe that I have a responsibility to speak up for those who are silenced. My father and mother were on welfare when they arrived to Canada as immigrants escaping from the Vietnam War. My two older siblings and parents experienced living on the cruel stipend of $800/month for a four-person family on welfare. I feel accountable for voicing their struggles, which were silenced through language barriers and fear of not receiving support. My intent is to raise awareness of the fact that current welfare rates are not adequate to live on, and rates need to be raised.

      Fighting poverty and social exclusion is a collective responsibility. Some things you can do to support this challenge is to have conversations with family and friends about food security initiatives and possible solutions. Contact your local MLA, volunteer your time and skills at an organization that supports poverty reduction, and sign the raise the rates petition.

      Samantha Truong is a UBC student majoring in social work. She maintained a blog about the Welfare Food Challenge that you can find here. You can follow her on Twitter.




      Oct 21, 2014 at 4:37pm

      How is the $84 figure arrived at? I thought that welfare for a single person is $610 per month. The housing allowance is $375. So if the person on social assistance lives somewhere where the rent is only $375, then it seems to me that they have about $235 to spend each month for food, transportation, medicine, toiletries, entertainment, etc.

      Will Fare

      Oct 22, 2014 at 2:06am

      Thanks for doing this Samantha, and for sharing your story on how poorly you felt surviving on such a nominal diet. Can I buy you a meal when you're done?

      Tom McCain

      Oct 22, 2014 at 7:20am

      I'd like to commend Samantha for her efforts, though I'm sorry to say, none of this does any good. The people of BC, like most people in the western world, see poor people as anti-social miscreants at best, dangerous lunatics at worst, and lazy, shiftless losers generally.

      To Canadians and British Columbians, your family would be slandered as leeches and parasites for living off the avails of "hard-working" taxpayers, so again, you deserve enormous repect for being courageous enough to admit that your family needed it.

      Basically though, British Columbians and Canadians see the poor as little more than human garbage, meant to exist under bridges, or anywhere other than their neighbourhood; if anyone believes otherwise, they'd have to explain why poverty, homelessness and Food Banks exist.

      They exist because we like it just fine. And make no mistake - poor people are great fun to abuse for business owners. That's the whole gist of why the Temporary Foreign Worker program was so popular. A bunch of immigrants who are thankful for the opportunity to be crammed into horrific living conditions, abused when they talk back and regularly docked wages for all sorts of 'expenses'. The 'stupid' poor who were born and raised here though, well... they know their rights and that's why those jobs aren't 'good enough for them'. Its funny that all sorts of asshats run their mouths (under pseudonyms of course) about there being loads of jobs that aren't 'good enough' for the poor to take, but they have nothing to say when the real conditions that the poor face (for work, specifically) are laid out in the nightly news.

      And we haven't even talked about the cost of finding a job (ie: You *must* have a Food Safe certificate for *any* restaurant job - which the Ministry won't pay for you to get. You *must* have security guard certification to get a Security Guard job - again, the Ministry won't pay for that). Almost every 'simple' job requires some sort of certification or priced entry.

      Sure, people tut-tut when some clueless doofus mocks poverty, because we all know the proper reponse is to ignore it. We British Columbians and Canadians think the proper response to failing our fellow citizens is to look the other way.

      We *love* having poor people. They work cheap and they're a great lesson for the young to heed; kiss the ring and play the game or eat moldy bread


      Oct 22, 2014 at 7:21am

      I've always been a supporter of increased welfare rates. It's the root of so many problems and one of the last criteria to be addressed. If people working regular jobs are having a hard time keeping up with rising prices (especially food) then imagine what it would be like to be on welfare.

      One thing that is missing from this challenge is that cooking at home is not as common as it once was, which is why 7-Eleven and McDonald's are becoming the favourites for family dining. I don't see that changing any time soon since it's prevalent symptom throughout all income levels.


      Oct 22, 2014 at 7:47am

      The problem with welfare is that many recipients have addiction and mental health problems. Do you know that there are more drug overdoses on days when cheques are paid than the whole rest of the month ( If you give people with these issues more money, is it realistic to believe they will spend the extra on food and shelter? For the people who truly are on welfare as a temporary measure while trying to get employment and survive, it's an unfortunate situation.


      Oct 24, 2014 at 12:03pm

      Dear Natty,

      I understand your concern about those that abuse drugs and alcohol on social services. What you fail to understand is that most, not all, of those come from sexual abuse, incest, violence etc. Even if they had jobs they would probably have addiction problems.

      There are many groups of people vulnerable to addiction:

      Soldiers with PTSD. Doctors. Pilots. Beauticians. Pastors and Priests. AA has special meetings for Lawyers who cannot mix with the general population because of potential lawsuits. Teachers, Everyone. Did you know there are accic

      Premiers: Gordon Campbell arrested for DUI. An excerpt published in the Van Sun by religious writer and ethicist says:
      "Mellis doesn’t buy the distinction. He says Campbell’s attacks on opposing politicians had an “over-the-top” and “self-righteous” tone. And it appears the B.C. public agrees, with 75 per cent telling Ipsos-Reid pollsters this week Campbell is a hypocrite.

      Mellis maintains many British Columbians will find it hard to forgive Campbell for another reason: The perception his aggressive cost-cutting policies have not been compassionate.

      Even before he spent time in jail for impaired driving, critics were furious at him for cutting programs to help the elderly, university students, low-wage workers, victims of crime, patients, government employees and those with drug and alcohol dependencies."

      You must understand the social nature of people. People need social contact and if you are living in total shame because of abuse, and end up on Support it is completely isolating. One of the only places you can start a conversation with a stranger is in a bar or an AA meeting and there are not that many 15 year olds in AA or NA. People run away from home and live on the streets where they meet other runaways and they do drugs together. Just like they do in schoolyards, that is where I started smoking pot and drinking. No, drinking was at home because that is where my alcoholic parents had us serve their party guests booze. No one knows that they are an alcoholic until they start drinking, and many many people stop drinking and maintain their sobriety while they are on Social Services.

      If you had any idea how much courage it takes to start over again and look for work after being on Support you would be very ashamed.