Sidney is a wonderful place to live. With its scenic walks, charming downtown, parks and attractions it could quite rightly be considered the perfect place to raise a family or enjoy a peaceful retirement. Sidney is beautiful, safe and reasonably affluent.
According to Beverly Elder, the executive director of the Sidney Lions Food Bank, while that assessment of the town by the sea may be accurate for most of Sidney’s inhabitants, it isn’t quite the case for the estimated 1,200 people a month who come to the food bank in order to survive.
“The people who are coming to us span every range of our population,” said Elder. “These are people who are doing everything right, but don’t have enough money left for food once they pay for shelter and other basic needs.”
Elder said that food bank clients (she prefers to call them guests) include single mothers and dads, people with disabilities, and senior citizens whose pensions have simply not kept pace with the increased cost of food and shelter.
“We’ve had a marked increase in seniors coming to the food bank,” she said. “In fact 13 per cent of our guests are seniors right now and that number keeps going up.”
Liz, a food bank client, is a single mother with two children aged 17 and 8. With no support from the children’s father and only the child support offered by the government and a part time job to rely upon, Liz’s annual salary averages out at about $14,000 a year.
“I’d love to get full time employment,” she said, “and I keep looking but there just isn’t any out there. But we never lose hope that something will finally improve for us. Right now, though, all we can do is to survive the best that we can.”
Liz lives in CRD housing, and that takes up 30 per cent of her income. She also needs to pay for electricity and when that bill arrives, things get very tight.
“There are days when there’s just not enough food,” she said. “I always make sure that my kids eat, though. Sometimes I go without eating … but that’s just the way it is.”
“I know that I’m not the only person in this situation,” said Liz. “But this community is very supportive and I have some friends who try to help out when they can. And I’m never going to lose hope. I keep looking for full-time work or other part-time jobs when I can and I know things can get better.”
In the meantime, Liz’s monthly visits to the food bank are critical to her survival.
“Liz is like so many of our guests,” said Elder. “And I know that it’s common for our donations to go up in December because people are in the Christmas spirit … a spirit of giving … but I need them to realize that hunger isn’t seasonal.
“We’ll need those donations just as much in January and February as we do now.”
As for Christmas at Liz’s home, things may be pretty lean.
“Christmas isn’t really a happy time if you dwell on what you don’t have, so we try to think about the good things that we do have.”
That positive spirit can be hard for her children to achieve.
“The kids know the circumstances … they know that we’re poor and that they can’t expect a lot, and it bothers me. That isn’t something an eight-year-old should have to worry about.”
But when asked for a message to the community, Liz had nothing but thanks.
“You don’t understand how much you’re helping,” said Liz, addressing the community at large. “But it makes an enormous difference for people like me. Thank you, and Merry Christmas.”
— Tim Collins/News staff