As an intern for House of Friendship, I have the unique privilege of being a part of multiple House of Friendship programs, not just Emergency Food Hampers. This position affords me a glimpse into many facets of the whole organization, which, outside of orientation or HOF101, few employees get to see. In light of the conversation that framed this year’s annual staff retreat, the topic of food strikes me as another aspect of our continued connectedness as an organization.
For those of you who do not know or could not attend, the staff retreat is a once-a-year gathering of House of Friendship employees from all its programs. Hosted at Hidden Acres Mennonite Camp, it is a one day ‘time-out’ that brings everyone together for a time of reflection, relaxation and fellowship. The theme of this year’s retreat was ‘HOF Connected’.
I commented in my first post that I was gaining a new awareness of the way that food unites us all; each of us requires food to lead healthy, happy lives. I am reaching the same conclusion about House of Friendship. The more time I spend in this role, the more I can see the diverse programs within this agency are also connected by food in some capacity.
In this post, I’d like to share what that looks like at Eby Village, one of House of Friendship’s affordable, supportive housing programs. Opened in 1990, this nine story apartment building provides permanent housing for sixty-four single adults. Though it falls under residential services, Eby Village is much more than a stable place to live. The tenants and staff transform what is otherwise only a building filled with individuals into a space of community and interdependence. Simply put, it feels like the home of one giant family.
Food maintains an integral part of Eby Village community life, and this takes many different shapes. Every month, the staff work in collaboration with tenants to schedule programming—like yoga, shopping trips or games—that everyone can partake in and enjoy. On any given month, an Eby event calendar is filled with activities that include, you guessed it, food. For example, about twice a month “dining” occurs. Again staff and tenants work alongside one-another, to use what they can access from the hostel kitchen to prepare, create and then clean-up a delicious meal. It costs two dollars to share in this meal, the proceeds of which go back in a fund to refurbish and maintain their commercially inspected kitchen. The money is also used to buy food for dining when the hostel is not able to accommodate their needs.
Though dining is the most obvious example of Eby Villagers coming together around food, there are other weekly activities that rely, to varying degrees, on food. Organized social time, such as coffee breaks or women’s groups, would not be complete without food. With these too, the staff work closely with those in the hostel to provide tasty treats for those who attend. Add on to these events the special once-a-year celebrations, such as the Christmas Banquet or Volunteer Party, and it becomes clear that food plays an overwhelming role in the strength and vibrancy of Eby Village and its social fabric.
There are many opportunities at Eby Village to gather around a full table together. This does not mean however, that tenants are necessarily food secure. Like many of the people we encounter here at the Emergency Food Hamper program, there are tenants who stumble across adverse circumstances and find that they cannot meet their food needs. Rent that is geared to a tenant’s income does reduce financial strain, but sometimes, it’s just not enough. In cases like this, once again, the Eby Village community provides a safety-net to protect against the possibility of going hungry, and it looks a little like the service we provide.
In a storage room, hidden on the ninth floor, a white cupboard sits filled with non-perishable food items waiting to be redistributed. This is the Eby Village food pantry, and has been in operation for over ten years. Christine, the program supervisor of Eby Village, describes this initiative as one that is “for the tenants, by the tenants,” since it is maintained solely by tenant council and tenants themselves. This means that a portion of the tenant council budget is dedicated to sustaining the pantry, and the rest is provided by tenant donations.
One tenant in particular has dedicated herself to this program. She is the one who scours the bargain shops and weekly flyers, stretching their budget as far as it will go, and ensuring that the cupboard is never bare. It took only a short conversation with her for me to realize just how vital she is to this program’s preservation. When a tenant requests a hamper at the office, she is the one who puts the hamper together. In this hamper, she told me as she pointed to the shelves of the cupboard, are 12-14 items that are consistent for every hamper. The items provided are meant to reflect a balanced diet, as prescribed by Canada’s Food Guide, but also vary depending on what has been on sale and donated.
To highlight this particular tenant is not meant to undermine the contributions of the rest of Eby Village tenants. I was told that although tenant council provides a budget for the hamper program, rarely is it completely used. The continued generosity of Eby Village tenants ensures that this program continues, the shelves remain stocked and no one in the family goes hungry.