Home Relationships ‘Why am I getting so little pension?’ Quebec woman turns to food bank, can’t make ends meet – Montreal

‘Why am I getting so little pension?’ Quebec woman turns to food bank, can’t make ends meet – Montreal

‘Why am I getting so little pension?’ Quebec woman turns to food bank, can’t make ends meet – Montreal

This story is part of an ongoing Global News series called Slammed: Montreal’s Food Bank Crisis, which explores how these non-profits are straining under increased need.

When Maria Pagliuca imagined her golden years, she saw herself maybe doing a bit of travelling and just enjoying the fruits of her labour.

“I thought I was saving to go on vacation,” she said of her retirement savings.

What she never imagined, however, was having to rely on a Montreal food bank to get by.

The 67-year-old, who lives in Pointe-Claire on Montreal’s West Island, said she started collecting her pension when she was 60 but kept working until she was 65.

Despite putting money aside, Pagliuca’s not sure retiring is something she can afford.

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“It’s been like a year and a half that I’m not working. But believe me, I’m thinking about going back,” she said.

At $1,200 a month, her pension doesn’t even cover her housing needs.

“I’m short like $500 just for the rent,” Pagliuca said, adding she wonders if there hasn’t been a mistake in her file.

“I have to get a hold of them.

“I worked most of my life, why am I getting so little pension?”

This is where Pagliuca’s RRSPs are coming into play.

“Thank God I saved,” she said.

Pagliuca explained she’s using her RRSPs to cover the rest of her rent, but said a good portion of that is getting taxed.

Pagliuca said she’s thankful for the support she’s been getting at the West Island Mission.

And while the food bank has helped ease the burden, she still struggles.

Because of an underlying health condition, not everything on the shelves is adapted to her specific dietary needs.

“A lot of the stuff they have here is amazing stuff, but I can’t eat it,” Pagliuca said.

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That means trips to the grocery store and the resulting sticker shock.

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“It’s, like, scary, ” Pagliuca said, adding she doesn’t understand how prices can fluctuate so much from one week to the next. 

“Some items are $1 one week, and next week it’s $4. I don’t understand. It’s as if the food has gotten as bad as the gas.”

But still, she manages.

“I buy very little and make sure it’s on special,” Pagliuca said. “I should be able to enjoy myself without struggling.”

Click to play video: 'Montreal food banks see sharp jump in demand'

Montreal food banks see sharp jump in demand

More seniors turning to food banks for help

Pagliuca’s situation is hardly unique.

Suzanne Scarrow, the executive director of the West Island Mission, said the organization has seen a dramatic increase in single-income households in need of assistance — with seniors accounting for 50 per cent of new clients.

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Seeing the shift in clientele, she said, has been heart-wrenching.

“We’re here to serve. And so when we see social assistance people that are on welfare coming through the door, that’s what we expected … it’s who we’ve normally served,” Scarrow said.

“But when you see your grandma coming through the door, your great-aunt, that hits home and you realize everybody is affected.”

Living on fixed incomes, seniors are especially vulnerable.

“They’ve always managed and they know how to budget, but now they’re in a place where they can’t,” Scarrow said.

Click to play video: 'Working Quebec family can’t make ends meet. They’re not alone'

Working Quebec family can’t make ends meet. They’re not alone

With inflation and high interest rates come higher rent and food prices. And for some seniors, the inflationary pressures can take a toll on their health and even lead to additional medical expenses, according to Scarrow.

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“They’re coming on public transportation. They’re carrying groceries down. Just the anxiety and health issues and stress we’re seeing is incredible.”

Because of the increase in demand for services, the mission has had to look for a bigger space.

Scarrow said the West Island Mission, like many other community resources, is at a breaking point.

Before COVID-19, the food bank never had a waiting list.

Scarrow admits that it sometimes meant making difficult choices about what was on their shelves and what they could offer to their clientele.

“You can have this or that,” Scarrow said, adding they are again feeling the squeeze.

“We’re getting to a place now where we might have to do that again. We’re in crisis.” 

Scarrow is hopeful the new location will allow the mission to better serve the community.

“We’re looking at it as an opportunity,” she said.

With a centralized kitchen being built for Meals on Wheels, they’ll be able to have cooking classes and it will also allow the mission to cut down on food waste.

“We’ll be able to transform anything coming from our gardens so we don’t lose stuff,” she said.

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There are also plans for a little café.

“So when our seniors come in and they’re isolated, we can have that conversation. You know, ‘How are you doing? Have you paid your taxes? How’s your cat?’ Just questions to make sure that we’re doing a mental health check.”

But improving things takes time and the will to make things better.

Scarrow believes governments need move away from a piecemeal approach and really focus on the root causes of poverty.

“You’re dealing with food security, you’re dealing with housing, you’re dealing with mental health,” she said. “These aren’t little sectors on their own … it’s a web of things that needs to be taken care of.”

— with files from Global News’ Gloria Henriquez

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