The struggles of our neighbours

TillsonburgNews.com – News – Do the Math Challenge
October 13, 2010.   By Bruce Urquhart,  QMI Agency

WOODSTOCK — When I agreed to tackle the “Do the Math” challenge, I thought it would be fairly easy.

I knew about the limitations imposed by this food-bank diet. And, while I anticipated some degree of frustration with the lack of choice and the sometimes questionable nutritional value of some items, I thought I would be able to breeze through the five-day term. Honestly, I’ve eaten pasta before.

But this challenge was actually one of the most difficult things I’ve done in the past few years. Not to be ungrateful, but I honestly struggled through every single meal.

I hated being restricted to a few boxes of pasta, and cans of tuna and processed vegetables. I hated my morning raisin bran. I hated munching on slightly stale bread. I never did eat the chick peas. Every meal became a test of my own resolve. Because, as I acknowledged last week, I ultimately had a choice. I could quit. It would have been as easy as driving to Sobeys or Foodland.

But as much as I hated the experience, I also appreciated the experience. I learned something about the plight of the impoverished, even if my own challenge was nothing more than a simulation. As frustrated as I was by five days of food-bank goods, I cannot imagine the constant frustration of that reliance.

And that lack of choice isn’t limited to what’s on the table. It can pervade every aspect of a person’s life, from the clothes they put on their back to the apartment they cannot afford. Imagine living a life where you don’t have the luxury of choice.

Imagine a life that is little more than subsistence.

When I explained the intent of the “Do the Math” challenge to people, I was surprised by the kneejerk cynicism. Advocates hope to increase the monthly Ontario Works allowance for a single adult by $100 to provide just a little more choice. But most people who heard about the overarching reason for the exercise assumed any extra money would be spent thoughtlessly. Would be used for addictions rather than necessities.

So while the challenge, I hope, helped raise awareness about poverty issues, there is still a need for more public education. There is still a need to bridge this skepticism, so we can embrace our neighbours and their needs. It’s about empathy. Now we’re going to learn how the seven mayoral candidates who accepted the challenge fared with their five days. While I’m sure some slipped — I’ve already admitted to a cupcake —I hope these candidates thought about the reason for the exercise. I hope these candidates have a better appreciation for the struggles of our neighbours.

I hope we all do.

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