Translating Deliveries


Today Mark, our volunteer driver, is delivering a box of food (shown above) to a single female who is 74 years old. There’s a good chance that Mark has probably done a delivery for this patron before, as he’s volunteered with our program for about seven of the eight years that she’s been supported by our delivery service. This senior began requesting hamper deliveries when her friends and neighbours were unable to continue supporting her with transportation to our program. In some cases this would force a patron to use public transportation, but in her elderly age she is barely able to carry a small bag of groceries home from the store, let alone the weight of a banana box-sized hamper. Therefore, this isolated senior depends on our programs resources because without us she would miss out on the food assistance she needs to supplement her limited resources. As a result every time she calls us, our staff and volunteers work to ensure there is a box of food packed and delivered to provide her with approximately one week’s worth of nutritious food per month, given that she is eligible for 12 hampers each year.Nevertheless, setting up a delivery for this patron is somewhat challenging. Our staff can speak many languages such as Spanish, German, and Farsi, but we’re still unable to communicate with her directly. Normally when our staff experiences a language barrier with a patron we ask for a piece of identification, since it may have most of the information we need to book a hamper; or we may be able to call the YMCA Translation Services to help us collect all the necessary information. Unfortunately, these alternatives can’t help us book in her hamper. As I mentioned before, her friends and neighbours are no longer able to provide her with transportation to our program since they can no longer drive themselves, and are also facing similar age and health-related challenges themselves. And there’s no point in asking this frail senior to walk or bus down to our program since she cannot be expected to carry a hamper home. Therefore, to set up a delivery for this patron we rely on the few neighbours or friends she is able to communicate with to help translate her need for food assistance to one of the intake staff on the phone.

Booking a hamper through a friend or neighbour is easier said than done. These individuals may not have the knowledge or the time to talk on the phone about her specific needs or details such as her type of income, what type of foods she does and doesn’t like, and what foods she already has at home. For that reason we typically do not allow friends, family, neighbours, or caseworkers to arrange food hampers for any patrons. Also, our staff cannot be sure that the individual calling in or approaching the counter is following the request of the patron, or trying to do a good deed to help someone out without their knowledge. However due to this patrons’ circumstances, we’ve made a note and exception on her file that allows our staff to book in a hamper with a neighbour on the phone. This exception allows our staff to avoid a constant struggle with her language barrier and allows this patron to receive regular access to much-needed food assistance, which makes one task in this patrons’ life easier as she’s limited in resources and supports.

I feel lucky that language barriers are somewhat short-lived in my daily experiences, as I believe the constant struggle to communicate would likely drain all my energy and consume a lot of time. One thing I’ve found when I’m working with patrons to whom I have a language barrier with is that I have to find creative ways to work around our inability to communicate in the same language, such as looking at a piece of their identification. Obviously it’s easier for me to do my job when a non-English-speaking patron has a translator; but this isn’t always possible for whatever reason. When patrons come in who cannot speak English, I’m always curious what types of struggles and challenges they face in their daily activities, since KW is a predominantly English-speaking community. Fortunately some are able to find supports with neighbours who can translate for them, such as this single female patron. I just hope that others also share this experience, as I can’t imagine how isolating it may feel to live in an area where you would have a limited amount of ability to communicate with and be supported by others.

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