Cover

MAKING SACRIFICES TO SURVIVE IN KINGSTON

Using food banks is degrading, a father says, ‘but you have to do what you have to do’

Rosalind Malcolm September 17 2001
Cover

MAKING SACRIFICES TO SURVIVE IN KINGSTON

Using food banks is degrading, a father says, ‘but you have to do what you have to do’

Rosalind Malcolm September 17 2001

MAKING SACRIFICES TO SURVIVE IN KINGSTON

Using food banks is degrading, a father says, ‘but you have to do what you have to do’

It’s that time again: back to school. And Canadian malls are filled with youngsters searching for the trendiest running shoes and backpacks to show off to their classmates. But the shopping centres of Kingston, Ont., won't be filled with members of Peter Donovans household. His six children get their back-to-school outfits at a nonprofit clothing swap run out of a local high school, or at secondhand shops like Goodwill or Value Village. This fall, 13-year-old Holly’s big purchase was a $22 so-called skort, or skirt with shorts underneath. She’ll have to wait for the family’s next welfare cheque to buy other back-toschool supplies. Holly is used to not being like most of her peers. Last year, there was no money for her to go on class trips. “I didn’t cry,” she said, “but I did stay at home in my room and doodled.”

Holly has lived with her dad since she

was 1. Peter, who was born in Nova Scotia, came from a large family himself and worked for a number of years at autowrecking yards. A high-school dropout, he has tried to complete his academic credits part time. But he was forced to quit both school and his low-paying job when he became a single dad and he couldn’t find affordable and safe child care. Now, Peter supports his family on $2,247 a month from welfare and money from the federal child tax benefit. He plans to start looking for work later this month when his youngest child, Ashley, 3, begins attending junior kindergarten. The family pays about $700 in rent and another $700 for food. That works out to $25 per person a week, so Peter watches for sales to stock up on items like milk and vegetables in bulk. But the family has at times resorted to food banks. “It was

degrading,” says Peter. “But you have to do what you have to do.”

The Donovans’ four-bedroom townhouse in a Kingston nonprofit housing complex is decorated with colour photographs of the family. It’s their one extravagance, says Peter. “It’s important for my kids to have a sense of family,” he says. “Just because we don’t have much money doesn’t mean I can’t instil in them a feeling of belonging and self-worth.” Peter also encourages his kids to chase their dreams. Tim, 8, wants to be a police officer, Holly a hairdresser and Jo-ann, 11, a counsellor with disabled kids. “I used to want to be a singer,” says Jo-ann. “But in Grade 1,1 met a handicapped boy. I’d play tag with him and we became good friends. That’s when I knew that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Rosalind Malcolm in Kingston