Archive for March, 2010

A day in the life of a food hamper

March 31, 2010

This is the third installment in our ongoing photo essay illustrating the variety in our food hampers.

Do you think of baby items when considering what to donate to food banks?

One of 84 emergency food hampers given out on November 3 2009

November 3 2009 – Family of three

Today a family of three, who is new to our program, received emergency food. The single father shares custody of his one year old daughter and three year old son with his ex-partner. Although he works full-time, he came to us for help for at least enough food for the weekend. From our food list he requested cereal, beans in sauce, rice vegetables, fruit, potatoes, bread, and milk. We also offered diapers, pabulum, and strained baby food for his one year old daughter from this food list.

The cost of baby items can add up quickly for families who have young children. On average, diapers cost anywhere from $80 to $130 a week, and formula can cost approximately $40 each week. These are two items most people do not expect to receive when accessing an emergency food program. However, our program recognizes the high cost and necessity of these items. In order to provide “baby hampers” once per month, our program uses donated funds.  A baby hamper is separate from the six emergency food hampers that families are eligible to receive from our program.

Baby hampers include diapers, pabulum, formula (infants 0 – 12 months), and jar foods (strained or junior). Each item in a baby hamper is given in a predetermined amount. For example, a set of size three diapers would include 18 diapers that will get the family through the next three to five days our emergency service aims to provide.

Donations of any baby items are always appreciated. Typically pabulum and jar foods are items we receive through community donations and the Food Bank of Waterloo Region, where as diapers and formula must be purchased and repackaged in smaller quantities to offer consistent availability. Our program purchases the diapers and formula through funding received from monetary community donations, Waterloo Region Social Services, and annual United Way funding. This year approximately $16,000 will be spent so that families like this one can have formula and diapers for their children.

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What is a healthy food system? And why are people hungry?

March 29, 2010

Back in November I was fortunate to take part in the Waterloo Region Food Summit, organized by the Waterloo Region Food Systems Round Table (which I am a part of).

A lot of people took part in the two day event, sharing their ideas and hopes and energy to improve our food system and create awareness of some of its current problems.  It resulted in a final declaration as a call to action and local people are currently spreading the word and working towards achieving the goals they set out in it.

If you’re interested in getting involved contact the Food System Roundtable and check out the discussion forum which is always full of great information and links to great initiatives.

Aside from planning, meeting, and organizing, part of the lead up to the day involved talking to local people about their struggles with food insecurity, resulting in the excellent Food Summit Story.

What are your priorities for our local food system? And how can we ensure that people do not go without?

A day in the life of a food hamper

March 24, 2010

Here is the second installment in our series of photo essays detailing our hampers and a little bit about the people who come to us for assistance.

Is this a box of food that would last your family three to five days?

One of many food hampers given out on October 29 2009

October 29 2009 – Family of three

Seventy-four families came into our program and received emergency food today. This number includes a family of three consisting of a single mother, her two-year-old daughter, and her boyfriend who had just moved in with them. The couple, who both recently found themselves unemployed, are facing a financial crisis. The sudden job losses have not only left them scrambling to keep a roof over their heads but have also left them struggling to find enough money for transportation to job interviews,  income support program appointments, and to purchase necessities such as diapers, and healthy food.

A recent public health study indicates that to feed this family of three it would cost at least $120.57 each week for basic nutritious food alone. Consequently, this family did not hesitate to check off every food item and category on our intake food list slip.

This slip is given each time a family visits for them to mark off the items they would like to receive.

The food list consists of 14 of our most consistently donated food items such as cereal, pasta, vegetables, fruit, peanut butter, milk, frozen meat and is something that we give patrons each time they visit us. This list has evolved over the years and is a way to provide some choice to our patrons in a way that is quick, easy, and effective. On this particular day, the family was able to receive quantities of everything they requested except for rice, canned meat, and beans in sauce.

Shown in the photo is the amount of food the family of three received today. This should last them approximately three to five days. Along with the hamper, the family could choose extras we put out in our “lobby” or waiting room. Extras can include unusual food items (like hot peppers, eggplant, lotus root, kohlrabi, collard greens to name a few) or large quantities of food we get donated to our program. Bread, plantain and boniatos were available for the day, and the family took some plantain, along with recipes on how to bake them.

Why is hunger unacceptable to you?

March 22, 2010

A few quick google searches uncovered the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas’ blog.  There is some interesting reading there and some good video.  This is one that stood out for me:

Why is hunger unacceptable to you?

The Potato Blitz lives on through local children

March 16, 2010

Just because February is over, and the official House of Friendship Potato Blitz has wrapped up, doesn’t mean people can’t continue to donate potatoes! A great little story of a community doing just that comes to us from Riverside Public School in Elmira.

During the first week of March, Riverside held a Potato Blitz event in support of House of Friendship. Sarah Martin, a teacher at the school, and wife of House of Friendship staff member Taylor Martin, organized the Potato Blitz which received a fantastic response.

Sarah’s Grade 2/3 class loved the responsibility each morning of rounding up potatoes from the classrooms into a little red wagon and then counting them. The little troopers collected 122 bags of potatoes from their classmates, most of which were 10 pound bags! Overall, the students of Riverside Public School donated and collected 1,220 pounds of potatoes! Great job kids!

“It was fun to watch all of the little children carrying in bags of potatoes each morning. Many of them had them in their backpack, making it necessary to carry their lunch in their hands.”
-Sarah Martin

The potatoes were picked up by a driver from the Emergency Food hamper Program on Friday March 5th and were given to people in need of food assistance during the week of March 8th.

This was a great experience for everyone and we are hopeful that Riverside Public School’s Potato Blitz  will happen again next year! Thank you to everyone who took part!

What’s a busy day?

March 15, 2010

Doing intake at the front desk in our lobby

People are frequently surprised how busy we can get at the Emergency Food Hamper Program.  Frequently we are surprised ourselves!

We are just one of a number of programs giving food to people in one form or another in Waterloo Region, but because of our location and facilities we tend to be the busiest on a daily and yearly basis.

How busy can we get?  Well, February 16th was a record setting day for us (again) with 278 food hampers distributed in the space of 5 hours.

This year February 16th was the day after the Family Day long weekend. In 2009 we were astonished to see 276 families and individuals come through our doors on that day, so for the 2010 day after Family Day we were bracing ourselves to do a similar volume of people.

In the preceding week, we carefully planned and organized our warehouse.  We started asking volunteers if they would be willing to come in an extra day, stay a little longer and help us deal with the high volume of people.  We worked with our main supplier, the Food Bank of Waterloo Region to get additional food and fill all available space in our warehouse so we were ready to go when the time came.  It’s not like we have a lot of space at the best of times, but when we are stocked to the rafters there isn’t a lot of breathing room.

Then, when the day finally arrived we took a double load of perishable produce from FBWR’s trucks, sorted through it and shipped it out as fast as we could.  We’re open to the public between 11am and 4:15pm.  By 11:40 we had given food to 30 families and individuals.  Then things started to accelerate, as more people started to come down the hill to our warehouse and line up to talk to us.    By 12:30 we had helped over 80 families.  By 2:30 we had helped over 200 families.  At 4:00 we had given out 265 hampers and still people were coming in!  We closed out the day at 278, sighed in relief and exhaustion and put everything away so we could start all over again the following day (we distributed over 500 more hampers in the following three days we were open).

When you’re dealing with that many people the whole day becomes a blur.  The phone is always ringing, the shelf you just finished filling with cereal is empty before you know it, and cardboard is piling up everywhere as you empty case after case onto the tables and shelves hampers are assembled from.

Keeping the supply line stocked is a full time job

It’s hard to wrap your head around a number like 276 families and individuals needing food in KW in a single day.  The 276 represented 700 people in total.  That’s 700 people who woke up in the morning, unsure of what they were going to eat for the next few days. That’s 700 strangers our incredible crew of volunteers were able to help with the donations from untold numbers of individuals, families, businesses, and churches in the Waterloo Region and beyond.  It’s disturbing that so many people need help but humbling and inspiring that there are so many selfless people who are determined they will not go without.

A day in the life of a food hamper October 23 2009

March 11, 2010

[3/12/10 edited to added a little more back story]

Now that the Potato Blitz has wrapped up and Emily has (almost) ended her spud inspired odyssey  across Waterloo Region this blog will move on to discussions about the Emergency Food Hamper Program and related issues of hunger in Canada and the Region of Waterloo by myself  and my coworkers.  As the year progresses we’ll pass the mic (so to speak) to different people in the House of Friendship to share stories about our work with food and efforts to support the local community.

I’ve been fortunate to be working for the House of Friendship at the Food Hamper Program for more than five years now.  It was a real eye opener when I started and it’s been a real privilege to work beside a huge number of gifted and passionate volunteers and staff over the last few years.

When I’m talking to people about the work I do, I get a lot of questions about the types and quantities of food we give out.  To help answer some of those questions we randomly chose an emergency food hamper in October 2009, photographed it and did a little analysis of the hamper and the family that received it.  We repeated the process in the following weeks, and what follows is the first of several photo essays partly inspired by the great What the World Eats.

One of many food hampers distributed on October 23rd 2009

A two parent family with two school aged children and a toddler have turned to us for help while they wait to receive a monthly cheque of $1222.00, the maximum they can receive from Ontario Works. According to a recent public health study, the basic cost of healthy eating for a family of five is $170.51 per week or $758.31 per month.  In Waterloo Region, rent for a three bedroom apartment falls between $767.00-$971.00 (this information is available from cmhc).  After bills, diapers, and other basic necessities like transportation, there is little if any money left for purchasing adequate food. As a result, like the 103 others who visited our program today, this family is in need of emergency food assistance.

One of our main goals each day is to provide a consistent amount of food and this week we were fortunate to receive a bounty of fresh produce from several donors. A farm in Milton provided us with approximately 9000 pounds of potatoes, carrots and cabbage. A local business, Herrle’s Country Farm Market, also provided us with over 700 pounds of squash and cabbage.  The generous donation of healthy, fresh food we received this week was higher than usual; as our program may see smaller donations or fewer donors on any given week. For example, during the summer we receive a lot of seasonal fresh produce but in the winter rely more heavily on non-perishable canned good which we receive all-year round from our primary supplier, the Food Bank of Waterloo Region.

The Food Bank organizes the major food drives in the region, collecting and re-distributing the food to programs such as ours. However, even with the daily donations received our program still struggles to consistently stock staple items like peanut butter and canned meat because of the high levels of demand for emergency food. Although the family of five experienced a shortage of canned meat and peanut butter, those items may have been available on this day last year.

They came, they gave, they ate!

March 5, 2010

Has it been a month already? It feels like just yesterday that Christine recruited me to be “Spuddy” for a CKCO TV broadcast about the then upcoming Don Cameron Potato Night. Like my 15 seconds of fame that followed, the February Potato Blitz flew by in a blink of the eye.

Community Potato Lunch, Feb 26th, 2010

On January 26th, Don Cameron Potato Night saw Ranger Fans fill the seats of the Aud, but, not before they filled the hands and buckets of House of Friendship staff and volunteers with 52, 146 pounds worth of potato donations!

Then, on February 20th, costume clad volunteers took KW stores by storm, raising the equivalent of 100,395 pounds of potatoes through the annual Supermarket Blitz.

Sandra taking care of business

Last but not least was the Community Potato Lunch, held Friday, February 26th. It was the third and final event hosted by House of Friendship as part of the 15th Annual February Potato Blitz and like the events before- it was a great success!

When Sandra arrived at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church with half of the Hostel Kitchen (you should have seen the amount of boxes of food, kitchen supplies, pots and ladles we brought over in the cargo van), 16,000 pounds of potatoes were still needed in order to reach the campaign goal of 170,000 pounds.

By the time guests plates were cleared, coffee mugs were re-filled, and John Neufeld debut as a stand up comedian was over, the goal was not only met, but surpassed!  In true House of Friendship fashion, everyone pitched in and donated $2,229.47 at the Lunch. This will provide over 20,000 pounds of potatoes because House of Friendship is able to use monetary donations to the Blitz to purchase potatoes throughout the year at a special rate.

Ashley and Matt

Hours before guests were to arrive we already knew the day would be a whirlwind success, as  energetic volunteers started coming in to help as early as 9:00 a.m. Half a dozen got straight to work, setting up the dining room with the table cloths, napkins, cutlery, glasses and plates, while another team of volunteers were busy preparing dessert plates, washing and chopping vegetables for the soups, chili, or veggie trays, in the kitchen. Eby Village tenants and staff, along with chefs Kelly Daly and Sandra from Home Depot, the Francescutti’s Family, Cheryl and Linda were among the masses helping get every thing done.  Potatoes were baked, and potato dishes were made, tea and coffee were brewed, and bread was cut. There were people stirring stove top recipes, others washing dishes, and even others offering a hand completing any other tasks. At 11:30 a.m, Sandra gave the okay to put the water pitchers out on the tables (but not a minute earlier), and with that, we were finally ready. Guests started to trickle in and were greeted by Kathryn, Shelley, and Gail from the main office, before being served by our eager spoon wielding volunteers.

John Neufeld, Executive Director, recognizes Supermarket Blitz church volunteers

Once everyone was seated and settled, tea and coffee were offered and the conversations and food consumption began! John Neufeld then expressed House of Friendship’s deep gratitude for the support received during this year’s Potato Blitz, and went on to thank and recognize the many community partners and volunteers who made it possible.

Linda and Taylor master the art of dish washing

House of Friendship staff, along with volunteers like Donna and Jan from St.Andrew’s, then stepped up to help with the mighty task of cleaning up.  And,  as quickly as it began, the Potato Lunch  drew to a close, marking not only the end of a busy day, but the end of this year’s Potato Blitz.

What a great ending it was, full of wonderful people, amazing food (mmm potato cakes) celebrating a grand total of over 170,000 pounds of potatoes raised to help feed those in need in our community.

Supermarket Blitzers win GOLD in Potato Collection Event!

March 1, 2010

The results are in and they are fantastic!

Volunteers from nine local churches rallied together on February 20th at 12 different supermarkets to collect a combined total of 100,395 lbs of potatoes for the House of Friendship’s Annual Potato Blitz! 17,500 lbs of the potatoes were donated directly, while the other 82,895 lbs comes from the  $8,289.47 in cash donations that will be used to buy potatoes year-round at a fixed low-rate.

Calvary United, Calvin Presbyterian, Christ Lutheran, Doon Presbyterian, Kitchener East Presbyterian, Knox Waterloo, Parkminster United, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian, and St. Louis Roman Catholic Church volunteers all spent their Saturday morning and afternoon at the entrances and exits of Food Basics Fairway Road, Waterloo Town Square’s Valu-Mart, Central Fresh Market, and various Sobeys, and Zehrs stores across KW.

Linda, Nicki, "Spuddy", Ed Ruppe, "Sweets" and John Neufeld. Missing: Chantelle

Some volunteers, like Ed Ruppe, his daughter, and his two granddaughters, made it a full day, family affair! Starting at 9:30 a.m, they stopped only for lunch, and were still going strong in their burlap sack dresses when “Spuddy” and “Sweet” came to visit them at Food Basics just before 3:00 p.m!

Elna Robertson spent the day at Sobeys Bridgeport with Parkminster United and told me in good humour, “Last year was my first year, and I didn’t think to have anyone around to cover a break or lunch. By two o’clock I was about ready to pass out.” Needless to say, she brought her husband of 51 years, Les, with her this time around, and planned for additional volunteers to arrive in intervals throughout the day. Other church groups, such as Calvin Presbyterian and St. Andrews Presbyterian, organized volunteer shifts from 9 a.m – 12p.m and 12 p.m – 3 p.m.

Elna and Les Robertson in their homemade Potato Blitz Tags

A small band of us led by “Spuddy” and “Sweet” were able to go around and see the volunteers hard at work at their respective locations. John Neufeld, Christine Rier, her son Colin, Michael Hackbusch, and myself, visited all but 1 of the 12 supermarkets, unfortunately arriving at Zehrs Pioneer Mall only minutes after the Doon Presbyterian volunteers had wrapped up for the day. Aside from this set back, we found those we visited in high spirits and unique get-ups. From green and white striped top hats, to handmade burlap vests (thank you Kingsdale Community Centre), to green plastic hats, and flowing burlap gowns, the Supermarket Blitzers made their mark and had many stories and smiles to share with us!

Samantha and Melanie at Zehrs Conestoga

We met veterans like Samantha- a grade eight student with three years experience and a fool-proof system: approach shoppers with potato bag already in hand, give a big smile and description of the cause, then place the potatoes into the obliging person’s shopping cart. Ta da, another donation secured!
How could anyone say no?

We also met Bob Schmidt and his team who were raking in the cash donations at the Northfield & Fisher-Hallman Sobeys, Ab Martin and company at Zehrs Glenridge, Barb “Captain” Chippier taking part in her 5th Blitz at Zehrs Stanley Park, and House of Friendship staff member extraordinaire, Shelley Holmes, with five other Knox Presbyterian volunteers in Valu-mart!

John Lambert as King Spud, and Doreen West peeking out from between the mascots.

Then there was King Spud himself, John Lambert, one of the Supermarket Blitz’s key coordinators, who has been volunteering, and wearing his royal attire, for the past 14 years. Customers of the Beechwood Zehrs were greeted with his tried and true: “Buy a bag of potatoes and we’ll gladly take them off your hands”.

So many volunteers helped at each location, and every one of them did a great job, at a hard job! Dave, from Calvin Presbyterian, confided in me that sometimes it’s tough asking strangers for cash donations or bags of potatoes: “Some people just walk by without even looking at you, you’re just another solicitor in their eyes and it’s hard to not take that personally.”
But, for every one person with their head down and eyes averted, there were half a dozen people willing to listen and/or donate whatever they could. In the end, volunteers would agree that the day was well worth it and a pleasure to be part of.

2,000lbs of potatoes collected before noon at Zehrs Beechwood

Steinmann Mennonite Church provided pick-up trucks and drivers to transport the 17, 500 lbs of potatoes to Steckle Heritage Homestead where they are now kindly being stored in an underground cellar.

Volunteer Driver, "Sweet" and Valerie Green, the Executive Director of Steckle Heritage Homestead

Great thanks goes out to Glenn Stewart for contacting and organizing with the churches and supermarket locations, John Lambert for also coordinating the event, Zehrs Markets, Sobeys, Valu-Mart, Food Basics, and Central Fresh Market and all the managers for allowing the temporary take over of their stores, Steinmann Mennonite for transporting the spuds, Steckle Heritage Homestead for providing storage space, the shoppers who donated at supermarkets across the region, and of course, thank you to all of the dedicated church volunteers who brought home the gold!

GO, SUPERMARKET BLITZERS, GO!