Brad & Junie’s Story
“It was depressing for me because I couldn’t eat lots of things. And it was really hard to balance with what others wanted. My girls have been bullied and have a lot of anxiety around food issues.”
Packing lunch for picky kids is nobody’s favourite bleary-eyed morning activity. But for Junie Omand-Penner and Brad Penner, Winnipeg parents to two teenage girls (as well as two grown boys from Junie’s previous relationship), it’s especially challenging. “The girls say so and so is having this special thing for lunch— like Japanese noodles or something, can we get it, too?” Brad explains. “It changes all the time. And we have to tell them no we can’t afford it.”
Living on disability and social assistance, with Brad back at school working on his mature Grade 12 and Junie at Red River College studying community development, there’s nothing in the family budget for extras. They watch for grocery store sales, use emergency food programs and frequent the NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre’s fruit and veggie market, but it’s stressful to juggle everyone’s different needs. It was particularly difficult when Junie was also on dialysis, managing a restrictive renal diet in anticipation of a kidney transplant.
“It was depressing for me because I couldn’t eat lots of things. And it was really hard to balance with what others wanted. My girls have been bullied and have a lot of anxiety around food issues,” Junie explains. “Not having food causes stress in our relationship, as well. Arguments. Should we borrow money? Where will we get food? There’s a lot of negotiation.”
It can be isolating, too. Brad can’t remember the last time they went to someone else’s place for dinner or invited friends over to share a meal. Even sleepovers can be tricky, he says: “You worry that you can’t provide what other kids’ families might—like pizza or ingredients for making muffins.”
Both Brad and Junie work hard to shield the girls from their worries. “They don’t often show the burden they feel,” Brad says. “But I feel bad saying no. I try to teach them we have a small budget and we have to make sacrifices.”