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

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[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.

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