Here's a challenge: Could you eat only basic pantry items for a week?
For many users of the Saskatoon Food Bank, this is the reality. Over the past year, the food bank received over 15, 000 requests for food and these numbers have been steady for the past few years.
But what does the food bank mean for someone who doesn't use it? In a challenge to raise awareness about poverty and food security in the city, the organization has created a week-long "diet" for high-profile Saskatoon residents to use the food bank for themselves.
From September 13 to 19, 26 well-known community members will be trading in their regular diets for a food bank basket including basic pantry items (like sugar, flour and coffee) and $5 to spend on food for the week.
"We're not trying to raise food donations, we're trying to raise awareness. It's more about making your own decisions and moving pass the illusion of poverty," says Alison Robertson, director of community development at the Saskatoon Food Bank.
Participants include a doctor, web designer, radio personalities and even an inspector from the police force. An average food basket usually contains two to three days worth of emergency food items including canned foods, fruit and bread. On average, a typical food bank user is allowed to receive one basket per week — relying on their food items to last for seven days.
In 2004 there were about 13,200 out of 49,100 children in Saskatoon living in poverty, according to the Food Bank. For participants partaking in the challenge, it wasn't just about being hungry or finding healthy food options.
"One of the things that has been difficult about this experience is the sense of social isolation that has developed. I haven’t been going out for coffee or lunch with friends. I haven’t had anyone over because I was unsure of my food supply and didn’t feel like I had much to offer," says Faith Rowland corporate account manager at the Canadian Diabetes Association.
Other participants felt a form of guilt of wasting food, losing energy levels to complete their day-to-day jobs and a sense of fear of running out of food.
Robertson says it's time for people in all communities to go beyond this idea that poverty in Canada will always exist.
"We may all have different opinions but everyone cares about fairness — there's nothing fair about a child going hungry. We need to have meaningful conversations and effective policies moving forward," Robertson says.
LOOK: The Food Basket Challenge In Action: