Many people living on pensions, social assistance and disability benefits are forced to visit the local food bank in order to survive.
In the hopes of finding another solution, the Summerland Food Bank and Resource Centre is in the process of trying to develop the Supplementary Income Program.
This program, currently in its infancy, attempts to informally match up people receiving government benefits with employers that have a need for casual workers.
“It’s important to see if we can create opportunities for people,” said Roch Fortin, a director for the Food Bank and Resource Centre.
“I’m a firm believer that if you offer a solution, then you have to be part of the solution. We started working on a pilot project. We needed to try it out.”
Fortin offered Jo-Anne Sexton and Rory Nurnberg temporary work at his business, doing what he called the “tedious task” of applying wax and labels to bottles of maple syrup.
“I was waxing and Jo-Anne did the labels,” explained Nurnberg. We actually got pretty even paced and kept up with each other after a short while.”
“It’s not rocket science for sure,” said Sexton, “but it gives a person the feeling of adequacy. It gives you a reason to get up in the morning.”
Sexton and her husband, who is on oxygen 24 hours per day, have only their old age pensions as income. They have no savings and are still in debt.
“When you get to my age it’s pretty hard to get a job,” she said. “I haven’t worked for a long time and everyone needs a resume now. It’s very discouraging.”
“I’m younger and it’s still not easy to find a job in a small town like this,” said Nurnberg. “This has been really nice because it has helped me get out of my debt issues.”
Nurnberg receives disability benefits and lives on his own in subsidized housing.
“Some people can’t handle a full-time job, either physically or mentally,” he explained. “It’s easier to do four hours of work, rather than eight. Some people just can’t do that. I’m sure there are businesses in Summerland who just need people sporadically, not something where people have to work every day.”
In order to try and give back to society in some small way, Nurnberg volunteers at the local thrift shop.
“I don’t like getting handouts all the time. I really dislike having to come to the food bank,” he explained. “At least I’m trying little by little to help somewhere for what I get, instead of just getting it and living off this money for nothing.”
While creating opportunities, Fortin stressed the importance of matching the ability of the individual with the work they are given.
“Don’t expect to employ someone with a disability or some challenges to be on the rooftop of a building,” he said, “but there are so many tasks that they can do.”
Fortin described his experience of working with these two individuals, in this pilot project as “incredible.”
“What struck me the most was their reliability and their attention to detail, making sure that the job was done properly,” he said.
He also valued the conversation and the relationship he built with them.
“You talk and you learn about each other and you realize some of their struggles and their issues,” he said. “When a person looks you in the eyes and says ‘thank you, you gave me a purpose’…that’s very important to me.”
The current Income and Exemption laws allow those receiving monthly assistance payments from the government, to keep some additional earnings. People receiving social assistance who are considered employable by the government can earn an extra $200 per month, while those on disability benefits can earn an extra $800 per month.
Fortin is excited about the success of this pilot project and is looking forward to the Food Bank and Resource Centre developing the program.
“There are hurdles ahead of us that we have to deal with, but we are just beginning,” he said. “We are working with the government, making sure we meet all the requirements. How long it will take, we don’t know.”
If you know a positive story about someone in our community, contact Carla McLeod at email@example.com or contact the Summerland Review newsroom at 250-494-5406.