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Life with bare cupboards

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Derek Tan is in the middle of his Poverty Pledge with Winnipeg Harvest. He and his peers have been challenged to live on just $3.96 per day for food.

STEPH CROSIER Enlarge Image

Derek Tan is in the middle of his Poverty Pledge with Winnipeg Harvest. He and his peers have been challenged to live on just $3.96 per day for food. Photo Store

Worrying what he will eat the next day is something Derek Tan has never had to think about.

This week, that’s all the Grade 12 Vincent Massey Collegiate student is worrying about as he participates in Winnipeg Harvest’s annual Poverty Pledge, formerly the Poverty Challenge.

"It’s a public awareness campaign to get people to see what people on welfare receive for food," Tan said. "They changed the name to the Poverty Pledge because they want it to be more of a pledge throughout your lifetime instead of just a challenge for the week."

The pledge asks participants to survive for five days (March 3 to 7) on $3.96 per day, which has to cover food, cell phone, television and Internet costs, as well as any other extra non-essential items.

'(Poverty) is a reality in a Manitoba. For all the people using Winnipeg Harvest, half of them are children. So it’s just to give perspective into the world and how our society really is.' -- Derek Tan

The $3.96 is equivalent to what someone living on welfare would receive for their food budget.
Before the challenge started, Tan said he won’t be doing much during the week.

"Homework and sleep," Tan said. "A lot of sleep, there isn’t too much we can do, I suppose… In school I’m going to find out how hard it is to stay awake with so little food… I’m already falling asleep in the last period of the day, so to do that hungry will be hard."

The 17-year-old’s family will not be participating with him. Tan’s strategy to make sure he won’t cheat is to clean out a cupboard for himself.

"You start with an empty cupboard and only eat from that cupboard and nothing else," Tan said. "That’s how you stick to what’s mine, and what’s not for this week. So I’ll clear a cupboard and my mom will say ‘Why is all this stuff on the floor?’"

Tan said he’s been lucky growing up. He knows this after volunteering with Winnipeg Harvest for the past couple of years.

Tan won’t be on his own for the pledge — he said around 40 of this peers at Vincent Massey will also be participating.

"A lot of my friends said they’re going to buy a tub of peanut butter and just pile that in," Tan said. "But I have a peanut allergy, so I can’t even do that."

He said he will be eating mostly rice, macaroni and cheese and beans.

Tan said he hopes his friends also realize how lucky they are.

"I hope they realize that not everyone lives such comfortable lives," Tan said. "Some people are really in need and we are all really lucky to be where we are."

Tan has recently applied to 14 different Ivy League schools across Canada and the United States and hopes to go into the sciences. He said he paused his life for a week because it was important for him to take part in the pledge.

"Growing up I’ve never experienced poverty, I’ve always been very well off and my parents always provided for me," Tan said. "(Poverty) is a reality in a Manitoba. For all the people using Winnipeg Harvest, half of them are children. So it’s just to give perspective into the world and how our society really is."

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