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People and programs 07/05/2023

Living in a rural community like Bonavista, Newfoundland has its benefits. Located on a peninsula on the province’s east coast, the beautiful views are topped only by the neighbourly hospitality. 

But it’s not without its challenges. From diminishing job opportunities preventing decent livelihoods to government cuts to health care, these types of structural barriers have deep effects on people’s lives.

Maureen*, a volunteer at SaltWater Community Association in Bonavista, explains: “We used to have full-time, good paying jobs here in rural Newfoundland. Now, there are very few opportunities. Folks get seasonal work at best and in the off season, they're getting Employment Insurance, trying to muddle through. It's a vicious cycle.”

SaltWater Community Association is a nonprofit organization advocating for poverty reduction in remote and rural communities in Newfoundland and Labrador. They have been a member of our Good Food Organization community since 2020. 

Betty, another SaltWater Community Association volunteer, was on the road a lot during the pandemic, delivering food hampers. She saw firsthand how much people need support: “The majority of the people we delivered to were single and widowed seniors. They’re trying to pay all their bills and buy food on income from their old-age pension, which is $700 a month. It’s impossible.”

A lot of seniors living alone don’t ask for help, both Betty and Maureen shared. They want to be able to take care of themselves. But they can only do that if there is enough income to live with dignity. 

“And why should our seniors have to worry about food at their age anyway?” reflects Betty, “They worked very hard in their day.”

This includes people like Art, a Bonavista resident who suffered a heart attack early in the pandemic and underwent multiple surgeries, including the amputation of both legs.

Before he became ill, Art was employed in seasonal work by a local fishery. Without an employee pension or health benefits, it was a challenge for him and his wife to pay for medical expenses—let alone put food on the table. This already very difficult situation was further complicated by the fact that Art’s doctor was 300km away in St. John’s. 

“There are no programs in place for people living in rural communities to get from A to B,” explains Maureen. “Art needs to make a seven and a half hour return trip for every appointment—and it costs money. So you've got to take money you'd be using for food to pay for that. It is a real strain on people and on families.”

As Art was recovering from his surgery, volunteers from SaltWater Community Association showed up at his door with foods like salt beef, dried salt codfish, and what’s known locally as “rough batch”: potatoes, turnips, and cabbage. Tucked inside the hamper was a grocery gift card for $500. 

“Things were pretty difficult. Without those food hampers, I don’t know what we would have done. We didn't have any money leftover for food,” says Art. 

His experience is not unusual in rural Newfoundland and Labrador. And that’s why SaltWater Community Association initiatives, like the food hamper program, are so valued by people in the community. Such local initiatives fill in a gap caused by the systemic issues of isolation, poverty, and precarious work. Issues that need to be addressed with better social programs and federal income policies. 

But, in the meantime, the community of Bonavista is stepping up to take care of their neighbours, like Art. 

We’re proud to partner with SaltWater Community Association, a member of our Good Food Organization community. 

*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the individual.

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