Hunger doesn’t discriminate.
Virtually anybody can fall victim to food insecurity — and according to Food Banks Canada more than 850,000 people turn to food banks each month, a number that’s been on the rise since 2008.
Food bank clients come from all walks of life, Salvation Army manager Lisa Clason told The NEWS from the bustling operation Thursday afternoon as volunteers made themselves busy sorting cans and stocking shelves the way you might imagine Santa’s elves would be working the night before Christmas.
Clason said she sees seniors outliving their retirement plan, burly young men who have lost good paying jobs in Alberta, working mothers who can’t make ends meet on minimum wage, homeless people suffering severely from mental health issues and teenagers who have fled home for unknown reasons among the multitude of people who walk through the doors.
Occasionally, people from wealthier ends of town, who have been forced by unforeseen circumstances, will also seek reprieve at the Salvation Army.
Clason said most people are just one paycheque away from needing their services.
Parksville’s Salvation Army food bank mimics a small grocery store lined with aisles of non perishable goods: cans of beans, bags of Vector, instant oatmeal, corn, even baby food and dog kibbles.
Clients are given a certain number of points each month (determined by an individual’s situation including how many people live in one household) and encouraged to “shop” the food bank with the help of a Salvation Army volunteer.
At first glance, Ruth Sabourin looks anything but destitute wearing a turquoise Billabong zip-up hoodie bringing out her crystal blue eyes. Casually, her wavy blonde hair is pulled back into a low hanging ponytail. The 36-year-old Qualicum Beach woman is seemingly full of life and energy. A year and a half ago she was at the top of her career as a personal trainer. Sabourin ran a fitness business, affectionately called Ruthless Fitness, contracting out to the City of Nanaimo for more than 15 years.
“I was as fit as I could be,” she recalled. “I ran 15 kilometres every morning, taught three core fitness classes a day, did up to 2,000 squats a day and all of a sudden I’m in a wheelchair.”
Tucked beneath the table, Sabourin reaches for an army green cane to help her get up. She leans on it for support as she limps along in what looks like great agony.
“I was going to go for a cup of tea one Sunday morning with my grandma and my whole life changed,” she told The NEWS from Bailey’s in Qualicum Beach last week.
Sabourin got in a head-on collision in August of last year. She was in the passenger seat.
She developed Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) from the accident, a rare neurological disorder often brought on by trauma.
She was in a wheelchair for a year, but in recent months she’s been learning how to walk all over again.
Every three to five weeks, Sabourin gets injections in her neck and spine.
She said the pain is excruciating.
“On the pain scale if you have chronic back pain or a bulged disc in your back it’s classed as a 27 on the pain scale out of 50. What I have is a 47,” she said. “So it’s one of the worst pain disorders you can get.”
CRPS can go into remission, but it will never go away.
Sabourin now receives $650 on Canadian Pension Plan disability benefits, but for five months she went without a single paycheque after the accident.
Still, she managed to get by until last month when an unexpected cost arose.
“Last month my son bought an app on my phone and I hadn’t realized it, and my phone is hooked to PayPal and PayPal was three times a day trying to take $3.49 out of my account and every time they were (my bank) was charging me a $45 NSF (Non Sufficient Funds) fee so when I went to get my pension last month (my bank) had charged me more than $700 in NSF fees so they took my pension away.”
And that was the final straw.
“It was the first time I had to utilize the food bank because I didn’t get my pension,” she said.
Before the accident, Sabourin volunteered with the Salvation Army’s Kettle Campaign, helped organize school toy drives and always donated to charity. Every year, she would find a family in-need in the community and her entire fitness class would contribute to a Christmas hamper she would secretly drop off.
“It took me a long time to swallow my pride and just accept the help because I’ve never had to ask for help. I’ve worked for major companies since I was 16 years old. I always had a really good paying job,” she said.
“So the fact that I had to ask for help when I was the one doing the helping for so long was really hard to do, but I felt so welcomed and so supported walking into that food bank. Their volunteers are incredible people.”
Sabourin said every month she contemplated going into the food bank and every month she talked herself out of it. She admits she expected to have a box of unwanted canned goods handed to her and be sent on her way.
“But when I went to the food bank they made me feel amazing like it’s OK to be there. It was incredible. They said I qualify to come every month which made me feel great because I’ve been struggling for over a year… Someone can be critical of the food bank, but I tell you, the work those volunteers do to give back to this community is amazing.”
Sabourin has used the services of both the Salvation Army and the Society of Organized Services and she’s eternally grateful for their existence.
“If we didn’t have places like the Salvation Army and SOS what would people do?” she said. “Someone has to do it because you know what, the government isn’t.”
While the accident threw her life off track, Sabourin said it taught her patience, acceptance and how to ask for help.
“You basically have to mourn the person you were,” she said.
• See Part 1: Food bank use on the rise
• See Part 3: Sorting through the food crisis