Could You Write a Grocery List for $26 a Fortnight?

One customer’s story about navigating life’s turmoil

Tia thought she was lucky. She had three wonderful young sons, worked in her dream job, and had just secured a loan for a new car. Finally, things seemed to be going her way. The last few years had been hard, dealing with being a working single parent, a relationship breakdown and health concerns always in the back of her mind.  

Many years ago Tia found out that she had a lesion in the front and central part of the brain, causing irregular brain patterns. With symptoms like epilepsy, it’s been hard to forget a diagnosis like this, especially as the sole caregiver to her children. 

Past medical issues aside, Tia had been working as a flight attendant with both SkyWest and Virgin Australia for eight years, which to her wasn’t just a job, but a lifestyle she loved.  

It was on a fateful day in 2015 when Tia was asked to lift heavy cabin baggage by her captain, which should never have come on the flight, that she herniated and ruptured a disc in her spine in Kalgoorlie. To make matters worse, as the flight neared Perth, the plane suddenly dropped into an air pocket which further aggravated Tia’s injury. 

Customer Story showing potatoes and carrots in a grocery cart

Being a single mum with young children at home, she really felt she didn’t want to make a big deal of the incident at the time for fear of losing out on additional shifts. 

Her life is very different now. It was Tia’s birthday recently and she had carrots and potatoes for dinner. Her children send her money every now and then because they’re slightly older now but she says that while she is so grateful to them, she feels as though she has failed them. She says the relentless fortnightly struggle to make ends meet affects her mental wellbeing. 

Due to the nature of her injury, Tia had to apply for a disability pension because she had to have multiple surgeries, was pumped with a huge amount of painkillers, then rehabilitation. As a result, she was advised to seek compensation, “You get treated very badly, like a criminal” Tia said.  

The compensation eventually came through, $50,000, which initially sounds like a large sum of money but considering she had just lost her income and was a single parent who had to keep a household going, it was not a lot at all.  

At this point Tia had been through multiple surgeries, and had been put on so much medication that she felt like a zombie, when she asked the doctors for another surgery to insert a device called a spinal cord stimulation in her back which has electrodes that go up her spinal fluid and send pulses which change the way the brain interprets the feeling of pain and turns it into a tingle, meaning she would come off the heavy medication, she couldn’t get the operation in the public system. This meant that the money that she got as compensation went straight into funding that operation. 

The blows continued to come. As she was unable to work, she contacted the car dealer she purchased her new car from to return it, realising that she still owed $42,000 on the car loan because of the interest, knew she was in a really tough position and after getting some free financial advice she had to declare herself bankrupt.  

Tia has applied for countless jobs but because she is not as mobile as she once was, she gets let go soon after being hired even after declaring her condition. 

Since then, Tia has been unable to secure disability payments from Centrelink as the letters her doctors write to Centrelink about her condition aren’t satisfactory to them but she can’t afford to see another specialist to have another letter drafted about her condition, for which there is no further treatment available, due to the cost of a specialist consultation. The waitlist for Sir Charles Gardiner is years long because of COVID-related delays. Centrelink pays her $776 a fortnight and her rent is $740.  

Tia’s $26 a fortnight usually goes towards making sure her service dog, and other furry friend don’t go without, before she looks after herself. Her service dog is essential for Tia’s safety, because while the lesion on her brain hasn’t grown for years now, she frequently falls down and has passed out in the middle of the street or alone in her home. 

Tia is new to Foodbank WA and thinks that because of soaring petrol prices, she will only be able to afford to come out once a fortnight but is grateful for the small wins. “It’s just it’s been a lifesaver to come to a place like this. I just appreciate it so much, it’s been a saviour,” Tia says of coming to visit us. 

Tia says that she is a strong woman, against all odds, she is always going stand up and find a way to keep going, be thankful for the small mercies and not take anything for granted. 

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