With Thanksgiving dinner just cooked and shared with my family, including the very thoughtful and talented writer of the film, My Week on Welfare, Jackie Torrens, it's hard not to feel an uncomfortable tightening of the chest that has nothing to do with the over consumption of dressing and pie. It has to do with empathy and memory. It stirs memories of often being hungry when I went back to school after a divorce and my children had left home. I had only a small income and a most of it was spent on rent and college fees.
I remember one particular afternoon wandering through the grocery store aisles with just three or four dollars to buy food and stopping when I caught sight of a tempting display of green apples. I remember my mouth watering and a longing that was so intense it was like the longing for love. I so much wanted those apples but there was no way to afford them and a loaf of bread. It wasn't just that I couldn't have those apples, it was that I felt like I never would be able to buy apples. Others around me were buying bags of apples and other fruit without a thought, but I felt like I was less human because I couldn't have bread and apples. It was more than one thing I couldn't buy -- it was a part of feeling poor in my soul. For that moment I felt abandoned by society and absent of the ability to hope. I felt no one, not one of these other shoppers cared or cared to know that I was hungry.
Now I know that I wasn't alone. No one on welfare in Nova Scotia gets enough money to buy fruits and vegetables. That's not healthy for them or their children. They have to make heart-breaking decisions like whether to swallow their pride and go to a food bank which is allowed only once a month where they'll get just enough food for a few days in the impossible attempt to try and make it to the next checque. And they have to feel like I did every day that they don't get enough to feed themselves and their families.
Nova Scotians on income assistance have been brave enough to tell their stories in this very personal documentary where Jackie takes on the challenge of living on a welfare budget and staying at the homes of people for a week. It's a film that will bust a few stereotypes and I hope get people talking. Because everyone of us deserves to feel like a human being of worth and dignity and have enough to eat, and we're the only ones who can make that happen.
The film is available here at CBC.ca for the price of a few commercials.