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September 23, 2010

Taking the Put Food in the Budget Challenge

I have decided to take the Put Food in the Budget Challenge. The challenge is to live for a week on the food budget an adult on social assistance has available. It's happening in fifteen communities across Ontario, October 4-11. But in Kitchener-Waterloo, the challenge is a week earlier. The launch was today at noon at Waterloo Town Square.

There are ten of us taking the challenge in K-W. We each have $20 to spend on food this week. We have each committed to blog our experience. You can follow all the blogs at www.waterlooregion.org/food .

We have been asked to start by answering a questionnaire for participants. So here goes.

Name: Greg deGroot-Maggetti

Occupation: Poverty Advocate for Mennonite Central Committee Ontario

Favourite Food: It's hard to choose. But I'd probably say lasagna (which I don't expect to be eating this week).

Guiltiest Food Pleasure: I don't know if I really have any "guilty" food pleasures. But a few things I enjoy are either a cup of wine or a glass of beer while I'm cooking supper. And I like to have a bowl of ice cream in the evening sometimes.

Family Size: 5 -- me, my wife and three kids.

How much do we spend on food a week: between $150 - $200 I think, probably more some weeks.

Why am I participating and why is the issue important to me? When the Ontario Government cut social assistance rates by 20% in 1995 and then froze it for ten years, I was stunned by the injustice and felt complicit for not having spoken up against the poor bashing rhetoric that paved the way for those cuts. I have been speaking up ever since.

That conviction about the injustice of cutting incomes of people in need is rooted in my faith. Key to that is Jesus' proclamation that he came to bring "good news to the poor" and to "proclaim the year of the Lord's favour" (Luke 4). I take seriously the spirit of the jubilee and sabbath commands in Deuteronomy (15)  and Leviticus (25), particularly the commands to be generous and open-handed to those in need and to structure society so that there be no one in poverty in the land.

In my advocacy work at Mennonite Central Committee Ontario I connect frequently with colleagues who work directly with people living in poverty -- the Circle of Friends program in Kitchener, Lazarus Rising in Toronto, and our Restorative Justice work, to name just a few programs. When I have asked my colleagues, and the folks with whom they work, what one or two key policy changes would make the biggest impact in reducing poverty, one answer comes back loud and clear: raise social assistance rates.

That reality reinforces my conviction that things have to change. But I have never tried to walk even a week in the shoes of many people I know who have to try to live with the meagre allowance provided by social assistance. This is my chance to do that.

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