MONTAGUE — A single mom protesting a denial of her EI benefits has been flooded with everything from hot soup and support, to offers of money and even a possible job.
Marlene Geirsdorf’s one-woman protest has sparked an outpouring of public concern as the 30-year-old epitomizes the fears anticipated by many in the Atlantic region about federal government EI changes in a region ripe with seasonal work.
She was denied her claim last week and told to seek welfare because she can’t get to Charlottetown (60 kms) for a job — only because she has no transportation.
“It’s been overwhelming,’’ said Geirsdorf, waving her placard once again Monday in front of the Services Canada centre.
“People have been offering me money, but I thank them and say, no, I’m not a mooch. I want to work; I don’t want to collect welfare. ”
Her story hit the front page of The Guardian Monday morning and registered over 25,000 hits on the newspaper website by midday. She’s been sought out by newspapers and television stations around the country, including the National Post and the Toronto Star.
The single mom says she can’t find a job in Montague at this time and has been told to take a position in Charlottetown. However, she has no car and there is no public transportation, and she doubts the government will pay cab fare.
“I’m not trying to rip off the system….I’ve always worked whenever I can,’’ she insisted as people honked horns in support as they drove by. “I’m just trying to get the benefits I’m entitled to until I can find work.”
A spokesperson for Diane Finley, federal minister of human resources, says people have always been expected to actively look for work in their local area while on EI.
“There are currently job opportunities in Montague,’’ said Alyson Queen, director of communications in an email from Ottawa. “And personal circumstances such as having a car or access to public transportation are taken into account.”
However, Geirsdorf, who has an eight-year-old son in local Grade 3 French immersion, said she’s checked the half dozen available jobs in Montague but doesn’t qualify.
“I can’t drive a truck and I don’t have the education for the others which are science-related,’’ she said noting she’s worked in coffee shops, gas stations and some light administrative rolls.
“If there aren’t jobs available in a particular area, EI will continue to be there for people as it always has,” said Queen.
Geirsdorf hopes that statement holds true, especially since she’s appealed the decision of being denied EI.
On Monday, people were stopping by with coffee and food, money and hot chocolate, and plenty of encouragement. A local fast food shop owner even dropped by to encourage her to apply for a job at his operation just in case.
“This shouldn’t be happening and I think this lady is doing a great job raising the awareness on this,’’ said retired businessman Barry White.
“I’ve never seen it this bad and I don’t know what they are trying to do to us….we don’t have enough year round job here and you can’t penalize people when most jobs are seasonal.”
Tracy Llewellyn pulled up with a hot chocolate for Geirsdorf and offered support to her cause. So did Lana Peardon and Chris Dockendorff.
“I just got laid off and I haven’t drawn EI in 20 years,’’ says Peardon. “But are they going to tell me I have to move to Alberta now?”
Geirsdorff has appealed her EI refusal but has been told it will take until Feb. 11 until a decision is forthcoming.
Single mom protester Marlene Geirsdorf speaks to a reporter from the Toronto Star Monday as her campaign against being cut off from her EI benefits continues in Montague.
©Guardian photo by Steve Sharratt