MOUNTAIN – The House of Lazarus (HOL) and Community Food Share held a “Hunger Awareness Challenge” from Mon., Sept. 18 to Fri., Sept 22 as a unique way of raising awareness about the hunger faced by those living in rural poverty.

The House of Lazarus and Community Food Share challenged 12 community members to live like a food bank client for a week from Mon., Sept. 18 to Fri., Sept. 22 in order to raise awareness about rural hunger. Pictured are HOL’s Cathy Ashby (back, left) and Kim Merkley, South Dundas Mayor Evonne Delegarde, Merrickville-Wolford Mayor David Nash, North Grenville Deputy-Mayor Barb Tobin, Linking Hands co-ordinator Sandy Casselman, and Community Food Share’s Ian McKelvie. Front row: North Dundas Councillor Tony Fraser (left), North Dundas Mayor Eric Duncan, and Winchester District Memorial Hospital CEO Cholly Boland. Missing: community activist Kim Sheldrick, North Grenville Councillor Frank Onasanya, North Dundas Good Neighbour Mike Barkley and Kemptville District Hospital Foundation Chair/Westerra Homes owner Robert Noseworthy. Courtesy photo

All 12 community members who participated in the five-day challenge – living solely off the items provided by the food bank for the week – agreed that the activity gave them a new perspective on the struggles faced by those less fortunate.

The participants included Merrickville-Wolford Mayor David Nash, Linking Hands co-ordinator Sandy Casselman, community activist Kim Sheldrick, Winchester District Memorial Hospital CEO Cholly Boland, North Grenville Deputy-Mayor Barb Tobin, North Grenville Councillor Frank Onasanya, North Dundas Good Neighbour Mike Barkley, North Dundas Councillor Tony Fraser, North Dundas Mayor Eric Duncan, Kemptville District Hospital Foundation chair and Westerra Homes owner Robert Noseworthy, South Dundas Mayor Evonne Delegarde, and one who chose to remain anonymous.

Each champion donated $25 to participate in the challenge – to cover the cost of the food items they took from the food banks – and were allotted an additional $10 of their own money to spend on food during the week.

Each champion was offered 23 items from the food bank, as well as cheese, meat, eggs, milk, and fresh produce.

The champions posted daily about their experiences on social media, and when it was over, they reflected on the food bank and its clients at a gathering at HOL on Wed., Sept. 27.

According to Noseworthy, he experienced some health effects from the food bank diet – firstly, he gained a couple of pounds during the week from eating so much bread and pasta; and he also noticed that the high amount of refined salt in the canned goods had caused his ankle to become swollen.

“Here I am whining about gaining a few pounds and a swollen ankle, but I know at the end of this week I have more food in both my pantry and my fridge,” said Noseworthy. “But that is not the reality for the real clients of our food banks…Those people have to stretch out their food allocation for much longer than I did. It sincerely opened my eyes, and made me realize how truly fortunate I am.”

Duncan explained that his week was “hungry,” as cooking is not his forte, and he normally eats out while on the road.

“It was an eye-opening experience for sure,” said Duncan. “I baked a cake and nearly wrecked my oven…I’m so used to grabbing food when I’m out and about, and that’s something I took for granted.”

Tobin commented the challenge gave her a new perspective on what can be donated to a food bank, as it is a common misconception food banks give out only canned goods

“Mentally I wasn’t prepared to see fresh food at a food bank,” said Tobin. “It was an awakening for me. The challenge showed me what it was like to be in someone else’s shoes.”

Fraser said that living off the food bank was fine for the week, but was amazed that some clients live off an “energy depleting diet” for years.

He said coming up with creative ideas for meals with only food bank items to work with was a challenge unto itself.

“I do cook a lot and I had a tough time with that,” noted Fraser. “I stretched a can of lentils into four meals, which is good, but I very quickly ran out of ideas.”

Boland commented this is the time of year community members have a surplus of fresh produce in their gardens, and getting the message out there that food banks accept fresh food could mean an increase in donations.

According to Barkley, who works in construction, he often felt tired throughout his 12-hour shifts during the challenge.

“I have been in the construction field my whole life, which is made up of a lot of working poor people,” explained Barkley. “I see it every day – the struggles they have – even myself at times have been there, not being able to eat that day or that week.”

Barkley noted he has seen many accidents in his line of work that never should have happened because workers haven’t eaten anything all day.

“I truly feel there is a huge need for people to donate to their local food banks,” Barkley added.

HOL executive director Cathy Ashby explained to the champions that 40 per cent of the clients served through the HOL food bank are children.

The Hunger Awareness Challenge was part of Food Bank Canada’s Hunger Awareness Week, and the champions’ updates can still be found on HOL’s and Community Food Share’s Facebook pages.