Archive for May, 2010

Hunger Awareness Day

May 31, 2010

Tomorrow, June 1st, is Hunger Awareness Day in Canada and  Food Banks Canada has put together a public service announcement that focuses in on the magnitude of hunger in this country and prompts you for some solutions.

More information can be found on the Hunger Awareness Day website. For some local context check out some of our posts on our programs experiences working with people who are food insecure.

Locally, the Cambridge Self Help Food Bank is doing a Brown Bag Lunch event, where they are asking all residents of Cambridge to Brown Bag it and to donate their lunch money for that day to the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank.  More info is available at this link.

For us, tomorrow it will be business as usual.  If you want to help out please check out the Get Involved page of this blog.

Food Banks Canada also has a video that highlights the related problem of child hunger and it really packs an emotional punch.  Especially, if you have kids of your own.

No one asks to be hungry, and if you’re a child can you even really understand why it’s happening to you?  I’m an adult and it still puzzles me why our society can’t organize itself in a way that ensures that virtually everyone has the basic necessities of life, especially food.

Realistically it is impossible that every single person will have enough food to eat.  There will always be a cheque that doesn’t come, or bills that pile up higher than you can manage before another job comes.  That’s why House of Friendship started the Emergency Food Hamper Program in 1958.  But is it right that in Canada every month more 800,00 people are without food?  That’s more people than live in the entire Region of Waterloo.  Is it ok if you are hungry, your neighours, your entire block, your entire city?  At what point do we change something?

So please, share the videos with your friends and family, and ask yourself:  how can we eliminate hunger in this country?

Eating exercise: Old Mother Hubbard NOW has food in her cupboard

May 28, 2010

Some of you may remember the photo essays from March and early April where we outlined an example hamper for various family sizes that were served by our program in October and November 2009. These essays discussed various aspects such as how our program operates and unusual foods in our waiting area, large donations of food that our program was able to distribute, baby items we are able to provide, and a special diet need to accommodate.

This blog is a twist on the idea of a photo essay. The essays provided an overall glimpse of the types and amounts of food available in a hamper, and a brief story on a family it was given to. However this blog is an eating exercise challenge! Below is a descriptive list of all the food items a single person could have received in a hamper on May 17th.

– One can of vegetable soup
– One loaf of white bread (not sliced)
– Box of instant oatmeal (8 packages)
– Two boxes of macaroni and cheese
– Box of wheat thin crackers (250 grams)
– One cup (100 mL) of yogurt
– One liter of goats milk (your choice of white or chocolate)
– Five pounds of potatoes (approximately 15 potatoes)
– One head of lettuce
– One cob of corn
– Head of broccoli
– Bag of (5) plums
– One can of salmon
– Bag of (5) sausages
– Bag of pretzels
– Single pepperette
– Bag of chocolate chip cookies
– 300 mL orange juice
– Banana pudding mix
– Head of celery

The challenge or “eating exercise” is to take a few minutes to envision that this is all the food you have available at home for the next few days. Think of how you might be able to stretch this hamper out in snacks and meals. Also try to keep in mind all the foods that you may regularly purchase or like to have available at home and are missing; or some of the cooking challenges you may encounter such as not having butter to cook with.

When I did the exercise I envisioned that I’d be able to get three days of snacks and meals from this hamper. However I had to be creative and plan things out carefully. I made a few revisions through planning to help make things last as long as possible. Planning out how to use this hamper is easy for me because I took the time to think about it, which I don’t envision a lot of our patrons may often do. Their lives are full of many other issues that demand their time, energy and attention such as searching for employment opportunities, dealing with medical issues, multiple appointments with caseworkers or other professionals, and many other time-consuming issues. So I can understand that having the time or energy to think about planning out a hamper may not always be feasible. However I feel like if I hadn’t made planning my hamper a priority, I believe I would struggle to find enough snacks and meals to keep me going.

Planning the meal list was easy though – for me the real challenge in this exercise was trying to accept the fact that I would be eating foods that I typically don’t eat or purchase like salmon, plums and broccoli. Though I’m not against eating these foods; I think it would be hard for me to feel satisfied after eating when I didn’t have much of a choice in the foods I had. From there I’d probably feel less motivated and energetic for all the things I need to do throughout the day.  I think this would then make overcoming the reasons that brought me to get a hamper more difficult than I could have ever originally imagined.

How many days of food do you see in this hamper? Leave a comment and let us know!

Volunteer Spotlight – Connie Becker

May 25, 2010

Twice a week, right before we open, the staff is greeted cheerfully by this volunteer, whose enthusiasm sets the tone for the day. Connie is the name and packing hampers is her game. Okay, okay, I will try not to be so funny…

Connie has been packing hampers with our program for five years. Give or take some time off, Connie has probably packed closed to 40 000 hampers. She works extremely hard when she is here, and ensures that each hamper she packs for the families & individuals, are packed with care.  Here are the interview questions that Connie answered, which I am honoured to share with you.

What made you decide to volunteer with the Emergency Food Hamper Program?

“I was on kidney dialysis and I wasn’t able to work, but I still felt the need to do something with myself that didn’t require full-time hours… And I just happened to be here one day with my friend, and saw the pin up for volunteers needed. So this gave me the chance to do something with myself and help where help was needed.”

Why is volunteering important to you?

“I have needed help from the Food Bank many times, and this gives me the chance to give back, even if it’s just in the smallest of ways by giving my time… And because it makes me feel like I’m doing something good and worthwhile with my time. It’s a real eye opener as to how many families live in or below poverty in our city.”

How has volunteering with us made and impact in your life?

“It sure makes you grateful for the things you have, because there are a lot of people out there that have less or nothing at all.”

What are some of your hobbies and interests, when you aren’t volunteering of course?

“I like to walk when I can, swimming is something I really enjoy, or a nice quiet walk with my dog up north. Most of all spending time with my grandchildren.”

Learning a little more about Connie has confirmed what I have know about her from working with her the past couple of years… Her strength is inspiring. I can be certain that when she is in, there will be plenty of giggles and a good amount of silliness. Plus the people she serves food hampers to will go home knowing that she took the time to make sure they are going home with enough food.

Volunteer Spotlight – Michael Kuntz

May 20, 2010

Our program sees volunteers come and go on a regular basis. However, we do have a core group that have been with us for many years. One volunteer in particular, Michael Kuntz, has been volunteering with our program almost 15 years…  By the way, he is  our longest serving volunteer! He will be celebrating this very important milestone on June 6th. I had a chance to meet with him and find out a little more…

Why did you decide to volunteer with the Emergency Food Hamper Program?

My caseworker Wendy from the March of Dimes, brought me down on a Friday to see about me volunteering at the program. I started the next week.”

You’ve volunteered with us for many years. Have you volunteered with any other organization(s)?

Yes… Al’s Cartage for 10 years in my 20s.  I worked on the dock nights, Monday to Friday. I would sometimes come in on Saturday morning for 4-5 hrs. Sometimes would go with the truck drivers and deliver Amway with them. I also worked at the March of Dimes in Kitchener for a few years. One of the jobs I did was bagging earphones that were shipped to Air Canada in Toronto.”

What keeps you coming back year after year?

“Well, it gets me out the house, and I love volunteering here. I like to see the nice people who work here.”

Over the years Michael has worked almost 2500 hours!  You will find him in the warehouse organizing and stocking the milk cooler;  restocking shelves with canned goods and kraft dinner; and enjoying several cups of coffee throughout his shift.

So I had to ask him:

What is your favourite job?

He replied in his usual boisterous voice:

“Anything but bagging flour!”

What do you enjoy doing when you are not volunteering?

“I watch the NHL playoffs.  My favourite show is 2 ½ Men that I watch 5 times a week… And when I’m not working I like watching my soaps and sleeping.”

Michael loves to make people laugh and smile. His memory is amazing!  He knows everyone’s birthday on staff plus the volunteers; he remembers every conversation you have had; and you might just catch him singing a song, just because. If you take the time to get to know him, you will find out how special his heart is, and that you have a friend for life!

Are you getting enough?

May 17, 2010

Vegetables and Fruit are the largest part in Canada’s Food Guide rainbow, which make these the most important foods to include for a healthy diet. This is probably why you’re familiar with the advertisements that advocate to eat five to 10 servings of vegetables and fruit each day. The campaign works to educate people on the importance of eating a good supply and variety of vegetables and fruit to reduce risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and stroke. But do you know if you’re getting enough? If you’re not sure, go to Canada’s Food Guide website to build your food guide and make sure you’re getting enough.

Doing the exercise to build a food guide is easy; it takes about seven minutes to check off all sorts of foods that you may typically have at home. However these check marks don’t have any way to fill your stomach. Transforming this food guide into an actual diet is the real challenge. It’s especially challenging for people on fixed (or low) incomes because they often lack the money to keep their fridge full of fresh vegetables and fruits on a regular basis.

Our program is able to help approximately 19 000 people who often lack enough money to buy foods like vegetables and fruits every year. This is all thanks to our cooler that is approximately 135 square feet or 1080 cubic feet. To give you a better idea of how big that is: most household fridges hold about 18 to 26 cubic feet. So we’ve got over 40 fridges worth of space to hold many of the donations we receive. Only a small number of emergency food programs have the facilities to handle perishable donations.

“Fruits and vegetables are helpful to get here because they’re really expensive…my kids can go through a bag of apples in a day.” – Father of 3 children, 20s

“(Without fruit I feel) like there is a gap in my body and I have less energy.” – Single female, 20s

“It’s nice you have veggies…It’s a priority in my diet, and this program always seems to have lots.” – Single male, 30s

“I feel like I have a terribly incomplete diet when I have to rely on soup and bread. Though I’m full I’m not content…Fruit is just great! You can treat it as a dessert or put it in a salad to make it more tasty.” – Single woman, 50s

And as you can see from the quotes above, we need all the space we can get to handle as many donations as possible. Buying fresh vegetables and fruit is difficult on a limited budget as these foods may spoil or run out before you have money to re-stock your fridge. Therefore patrons are often forced purchase more non-perishable foods to help their groceries last until their next paycheck or the end of the month. These foods are typically cheaper, but relying on these sources make it difficult for patrons to get enough vegetables and fruit that are needed in their diet. Instead they’re stuck eating canned foods full of sugar and salt to fill their stomachs and save a small amount of money.

“My husband was paying child support but has now lost his job; so now it makes it harder for me to make it through the month. Today at lunch we picked through the fridge and freezer for food; whether it went together or not – we just ate it since it’s all we had.” – Single mother of 3, 30s

Volunteer Spotlight – Wouda Engel

May 13, 2010

Volunteers help us in many ways; from sorting and packaging food, packing food hampers, and sorting & organizing in-kind donations. In celebrating the hard work each volunteer does, we have a regular blog feature dedicated to our great volunteers!

A little over 10 years ago, Wouda brought in a friend who needed a food hamper. Wouda had retired 6 months earlier, and while she waited with her friend she inquired with a staff member if there was an opening for a volunteer to sort the clothing.  The staff person responded immediately with a resounding “Yes!”. Wouda started to volunteer the very next day. She continues to volunteer, Monday to Friday,  about 15 to 20 hours a week. This translates to an impressive 6500 volunteer hours which spans over the decade she has volunteered with us!

I was able to ask Wouda a few questions…

Why is volunteering important to you?

“First, I do not have to sit at home and do nothing. Second, I feel that it’s important to help the community.”

How has volunteering with EFHP made an impact in your life?

“It keeps me busy every morning, and I have built friendships with some of other volunteers over the years.”

What do you like to do in your spare time (hobbies/interests)?

“I like to do puzzles while watching T.V.  in the evenings. The harder the better.”

Wouda was, and is, a perfect fit for organizing, sorting, and displaying the clothing donations. The process she has developed over the years is impressive, since the area she works from is very small. Her system is efficient and runs like a well oiled machine; she consistently processes a large amount items during every volunteer shift. It’s pretty much the work of two people. Her focus and drive never waivers, which is amazing!

We really appreciate the work and dedication you have given to our program for over a decade. Wow! Wouda!

Do you like crunchy or smooth?

May 10, 2010

Personally I dislike both – I’m not a fan of peanut butter. However I know I’m in a small group of people who feel this way. In almost every household there is at least one person that tries to ensure peanut butter makes it into the grocery purchases. Peanut butter is the final article in our series of patrons’ reflections regarding staples foods such as pasta, potatoes, rice, and canned meat and fish. (And hopefully you can enjoy this article as much as you have enjoyed the previous four!)

Peanuts are listed as one of the nine most common food allergies to have. Yet of the 20 or more people I spoke with everyone couldn’t stop talking about how wonderful peanut butter was to have available at home. No one made any comments on the fact that it’s one of the most common food allergies. There were no comments from parents about how difficult it is to re-plan other lunches for the children or that they’re unable to take this favourite sandwich spread with them to work. Instead people were more focused on the many different ways their family often eats peanut butter at home such as straight off a spoon, cookies or mixed in various other creative inventions. Also everyone mentioned that without peanut butter their diet would include a significantly lower amount of protein and other nutrients that peanut butter provides.

 “If I don’t have lots of meat, I eat peanut butter as the next best thing for health.” – Mother of 2 children with one more on the way, 40s

“Peanut butter provides some protein when I’m out of meat and broke.” – Single female, 20s

According to Canada’s Food Guide meat and alternatives section, two tablespoons (or 30 millilitres) of peanut or nut butters are one serving of meat. For people on limited incomes peanut butter can be a very cost-effective way of achieving the two or three servings of meat a person requires daily in their diet. Many people preferred peanut butter for this reason as their budget hardly has the room to stretch to include many cuts of meat.

“When you don’t have peanut butter…it’s like something is missing…it’s never really right.” – Single mom of 3 kids, late 20s

“Peanut butter is the basic protein that keeps me alive. It’s an absolute must! I have a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread by my bed. It’s all three meals for me: breakfast, if I’m up; lunch; and dinner.” – Single male, 50s

A peanut butter sandwich is a favourite meal or snack for many people because it’s a quick and easy to make that’s full of flavour. So how do you change your “sandwich” when peanut butter isn’t available? One man in his 50s finds he’ll simply eat plain bread to settle the acids in his stomach. Occasionally he’ll have a can of soup available to cook so he can dip the bread, which he thaws from his freezer, in for more flavour. Sadly he often lives with a small amount of food at home because he has less than fifty dollars for food for the month. Therefore not getting peanut butter from emergency food programs drastically affects his level of nutrition.

“Peanut butter is like half of my diet. I don’t always feel like eating. Peanut butter doesn’t fill me up but gives me something healthy to snack on during the day.” – Single male, 20s, who has Crohn’s disease

“Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the one food we don’t have to fight our children to eat. So when we don’t have it, it’s a pain right square in the behind – to put it in plain English.” – Father of 3 children, 20s  
“When you get low on money and food, you get creative in what you make.” – Single male, 50s
A married man in his late 40s had a variety of ways that he uses peanut butter that are not very traditional in my mind. He’s been in a need to access our program for emergency assistance for the last six years. So he started finding ways to tweak regular meals like peanut butter sandwiches because he was finding that otherwise his family would likely lose a taste for it. What he does to a peanut butter sandwich now is he adds cheese whiz, diced onion and tomato. It’s still a simple meal, but also incorporates almost every food group. However he wishes that one day he can choose to be this creative with staple foods, instead of being ‘forced’ into it by his limited cupboards and finances.

One year, mulitiple programs, hundreds of people

May 3, 2010

Twelve months ago I graduated from the University of Waterloo, and embarked upon a journey into a rich world of cultural, social, and economic diversity. During this time I was introduced to delicious foods I had never even heard of before, like lychees or star fruit, and I was able to share this food with others. I met people who were living, or had lived through, circumstances unimaginable to many. I communicated with individuals who spoke languages different from my own. I held babies, I organized and attended parties, I planted seeds, I drove thousands of kilometers, and now, my year-long adventure has come to a close. Friday, April 30th was the last day of my House of Friendship Social Service Internship!

I enjoyed my experience as the intern, and although I wasn’t actually traveling the world, it sure felt like it sometimes. The majority of my time was divided between three programs each week– Emergency Food Hamper Program, Live and Learn Program, and Eby Village. However, I also assisted with the Sunnydale Community Centre Summer Playground Program during the summer of 2009, the Christmas Hamper Program in December 2009, and various other programs and events over the course of the year. I am sure that the insights and understanding that I gained during this time period will continue to guide me for years to come, and can not be easily summarized. What follows is just a small slice of everything I would like to say, without crashing this blog site with too much content!

To me, my involvement with food assistance was about much more than food. It was, and always will be, first and foremost, about people. The people in need of help and the people who offered that help to them: the patrons, the volunteers, donors, and staff members who astounded me with their resilience, resourcefulness, generosity, and humility.

It seems that sometimes, when life hits you with a pile of bricks, it hits you with a whole house worth. Your husband loses his job, your car starts making a funny noise, your kid complains of a tooth ache, and next thing you know you’re paying for two fillings and a new fan belt on top of everything else. What do you do? Well, if you’re anything like the people who access any of our programs, you keep going. You move forward, and you do the best you can with what you have.

A man came in to the Food Hamper Program last week. He wore a large knapsack on his back, with a rolled sleeping bag attached. He was homeless, and living out of a tent. He needed food, but the items he could take with him were limited – he didn’t have a fridge, or cooking tools. After he received his hamper, he asked if I could open his can of tuna for him. He was starving and needed something to eat right then, but did not have a can opener of his own. It broke my heart to see this man’s eyes light up when I offered him a simple fork to accompany what may have been the first thing he would eat all day.

We couldn’t provide the food we do if it weren’t for our generous donors and volunteers. Having the chance to work side by side with people who give so much of their time and resources has been a heartening experience. Being able to work in a place where I witness extreme generosity on a daily basis has been a huge blessing. Whether it may be 10,000 ripe mangoes, 33,000 lbs of corn, 1,000 lbs of canned food, or one can of baby formula, it is amazing to know that there are so many farmers, supermarkets, community members, companies, schools, and church groups out there who remember and choose to help other people in need.

Many months ago, I met a single mother in need of food assistance. She seemed  ashamed to be in such a position. It was apparent that she felt she needed to justify her need by explaining to me her current situation. Her eyes were full of tears, but she choked them back as she explained how her son was sick, and she was missing a lot of work because of it. She told me there was a time she never would have imagined having to ask for food. She’d gotten a Philosophy Degree, but then she got pregnant and became a single mother. Finding a job in her field was extremely difficult, so she took whatever she could get, minimum wage, part-time, etc, to raise her son.

Recently, I met this woman again, but it was now me standing on the other side of the counter asking for food. I was at a local fast food restaurant. She didn’t remember me, but her service was excellent and we ended up having an interesting conversation. I couldn’t help thinking after saying good-bye that we all sit at the same table, just  sometimes in different chairs.

This woman’s situation, like many others, really stuck with me. I too have a university degree, and like her, I might one day find myself in a situation I would never perceive possible. Like so many patrons that come in to the Food Hamper Program I might go from food bank donor, to food bank recipient in the blink of an eye. No one foresees a future in which they will need to ask for help from complete strangers. No one wants to do this, but for over 20,000 people in our community, this is their reality.

Canned meat and fish fit all occasions

May 3, 2010

Spam is one of the first items that came to mind when I asked patrons about canned meat while they were waiting for a hamper. Most patrons believe canned meat such as spam is a mystery meat product, so they don’t often buy it. Subsequently after talking to a few people, I learned that I needed to expand the title of this staple food to canned meat AND FISH, which helped me learn how significant this food is to patrons accessing emergency food programs. This post on staple food is the fourth in a series on topics such as pasta, potatoes, rice and peanut butter.

“It makes me cry…it’s sad…but I appreciate having this program so I don’t have bare cupboards or a bare fridge.” – Single mom, 40s

Approximately half a can of meat or fish equals one serving of meats and alternatives based on Canada’s Food Guide recommendations. Canned meat and fish are one of the meat products our program is able to distribute in emergency food hampers because of donations that come to us from the Food Bank and from direct donations. Some other meat and alternative products that we frequently distribute in our food hampers are canned beans, peanut butter, and frozen meats. Canned beans, peanut butter and canned meat or fish are currently in the top four items most needed in food bank donations . Therefore supplies of these items are frequently very limited in the quotas for our hampers, if the food items are available at all.

“It’s hard when there’s not much food at home…I often just end up doing without.” – Single male, 40s

“Tuna is a fairly inexpensive staple. So it’s frustrating when I can’t afford it; especially when I have my kids! It’s demoralizing not to have a simple food like this.” – Father with 2 part-time children, late 30s

What happens when you lack the money to buy the foods you need or want at home and don’t get these foods at an emergency food program? Well, the most common response to this question by patrons is that they would be forced to live without it, which I think is heartbreaking. Canned meat and fish tends to be a cheaper alternative than fresh or frozen meat. Therefore this likely means that their diet would lack protein and other nutrients that meats often provide since hardly anyone I talked to could think of an alternative or substitute for canned meat.

”As a parent it’s really hard because you feel like you’re not providing well. Even if they won’t eat or don’t like it, you feel better when there’s something in the fridge or cupboards” – Single mother of two children, 30s

“It’s easy to have Kraft dinner and pork and beans at home but yuk! You really get sick of it. Even adding canned meat makes things better.” – Female, 40s

People who need to frequently visit any emergency food programs are often provided with the same general foods each visit such as pasta and Kraft Dinner, canned beans, soup, and rice. Eating the same types of food can get boring fast! Several patrons solve this issue by adding canned meat or fish to other staple foods that are available at home. By opening a can of meat or fish they find that it gives a regular dish a whole new taste. But the value of canned meat and fish is about more than taste. Including meat in almost every meal is very important to many patrons. Most said it didn’t even have to be an expensive cut of meat; they enjoyed having anything from a sausage to a can of beans to a chicken breast to a peanut butter sandwich. Having canned meat and fish at home helps patrons find a cost-efficient way to meet nutrition requirements when there is a limited amount of food available.

“Tuna and fish is such a good source of protein and it fills you up.” – Single female, 50s

“It’s hard not to have a lot of food. But I make sure I know my priorities: number one is that my rent is paid. Number two is that my son has a nutritious lunch.” – Mother, 40s

Many patrons appreciate receiving canned meat and fish in emergency food hampers as it’s a non-perishable type of meat that provides a similar degree of nutrition to fresh meat. Canned meat and fish typically lasts longer than fresh meat. Hence patrons have a bit more of choice as to when they use canned meat and fish to make a simple sandwich to send with their children to school or use in a dish to fill a dinner plate with. Therefore a lot of people try to stock up on canned meats when they have a little extra money or there is a sale. Canned meat and fish can be used creatively in dishes for a source of protein that will help the rest of their food stretch out until the end of the week or month when more money will be available.

“Not having canned meat or fish makes me feel like, not embarrassed, but I just wonder why I’m always struggling! It’s degrading to not be able to always get what I want.” – Single female, 50s

“To be honest I don’t buy (canned meat or fish) because I simply can’t afford it…sometimes I think about taking a bridge because it feels terrible…It’s tough to live on nothing – imagine living on $22 a month for food.” – Single male, 50s