Archive for April, 2011

Volunteer Spotlight: Jeff

April 28, 2011

Almost a year and a half ago today was when we saw Jeff for the first time to help out in our warehouse. He started doing various tasks in the warehouse like stocking shelves and re-packaging food items but we slowly started introducing him to packing hampers. He’s been a tremendous amount of help at the end of the day to help us clear through the last-minute hampers rushes before we close or to stock the hamper aisle shelves so we’re ready for the next morning. Jeff has a lot of experience with each of these tasks as he’s been helping us out for about 130 hours by coming in week after week. As a result of his continued dedication I took some time to ask him a few questions so we could all get to know more about this fantastic volunteer.

How did you hear about House of Friendship?

“I’ve always looked to do some volunteering here and there over the years; but a lot of places were full since high schools students have had to do mandatory volunteering hours. Then I needed to do some community service hours and got help finding a placement with the John Howard Society. After I finished my hours I requested to keep volunteering if they needed someone.

Why is volunteering important to you?

“With this program specifically I’d probably say that it’s important because people need food. And I know that you guys rely mostly on volunteers so I like being able to help them get it.”

Are there any other programs that you volunteer or have volunteered with?

“I’ve helped out at the St. Johns Soup Kitchen a few times since I know one of the staff people there. And I also do on call help at the Breithaupt Community Center for various events like their Book Fair in March.”

What’s your favourite job at our program?

“Stocking the shelves is something I like to do. It’s pretty straightforward stuff, and really helps out for all the people who are packing hampers. Checking the expiry dates on some of the products like canned soup can be a bit of a challenge but I still enjoy it.”

What kind of activities or hobbies do you enjoy when you’re not working or volunteering?

“I’m into music. I’ve taken some lessons and taught myself how to play guitar, bass guitar, and drums. Most of what I play would be categorized as rock music. I recently became a certified snowboard instructor. And I also keep myself busy with my kids. I like playing sports with them, and taking them out to the park, the library, the museum, and places like that.”

Well Jeff it was great to get to talk to you. You’re often so busy working in the warehouse that I don’t always get a chance to see you in the break room while you’re here. Thanks for all your hard work in all areas of the warehouse!

A Night Out to Remember

April 27, 2011

Everyone has a lot of commitments throughout the day, so when it comes to dinner time it can be difficult to find enough energy to make a meal for you and/or your family. Eating out isn’t always an affordable option, but today it can be a charitable one!

Tonight you can choose to dine out and support the work of the Aids Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener-Waterloo and Area (ACCKWA). This organization has been in existence for approximately 25 years and responds to the needs of those who are affected by HIV/AIDS in various ways. Anyone can go for anonymous HIV testing, learn more about disease prevention, access the safe needle exchange program, and many other services.  You can check out the many services they provide by looking at their website here. (more…)

Everyone Deserves a Home

April 20, 2011

This week is third annual Homeless Awareness Week in Kitchener-Waterloo. Over the years this awareness campaign has been in action various events have been arranged by many volunteers in the community to bring awareness to the issues of homelessness.

To test your knowledge on homelessness and poverty issues, try this quiz.

Monday night I attended a symposium at the Faculty of Social Work. The theme for the evening was “everyone deserves a home”. To share this theme there were three individuals who have experienced homelessness in the past, Van Vilaysinh from the Region’s Social Planning Division, and Kelly Craigmile from the Safe Haven Shelter through Lutherwood. However you may have already read a bit about this symposium in The Record; but if not, click here.

At the end of the symposium each member on the panel essentially wanted to ensure that everyone remembered the same message: the people on the streets aren’t scary or dangerous, they’re simply human beings who are experiencing some difficult circumstances that lead them to no longer maintain safe, secure and affordable housing. These are people who deserve to be given attention and resources to overcome the various situations that brought them to the streets.

You can meet some of the people who coordinated the events this week, especially the founder (Charles Nicholas), and hear about the upcoming struggles for the homeless populations by watching this video.

One of the statistics mentioned by the Social Planning Council is that it is more expensive to continue to allow emergency services such as hospitals and shelters to accommodate the needs of people experiencing homelessness. Instead a more cost-effective solution is to create more housing options, such as Supportive Housing of Waterloo (SHOW). But these types of arrangements only come through with funding, which takes community members to speak up so the governments are aware that this is a necessary priority to make in our budget plans.

If you’re interested in becoming more aware about issues with homelessness or to show your support in advocating for change, there are still a few events going on this week. There is an art show tonight from seven to nine at the First United Church in Waterloo. (Click here for a map.) Also there is a photo gallery available during regular office hours at the Cambridge City Hall. (Click here for more details.) Finally you can also show your support by fundraising or attending the Sleepless Night event hosted by the Kitchener Downtown Community Center.

“Success will never be a big step in the future, success is a small step taken just now.” ~ Jonathan Martensson

Fun and food are right around the corner

April 19, 2011

Having enough money for the holidays is tough. Sometimes no matter how hard you budget, there just isn’t enough money to fill every expense. You’ll always be left with unfulfilled needs because something set you back financially and you just can’t catch up…Unfortunately this is a depressing reality for many of the patrons that we serve day-to-day.

Annually House of Friendship provides food assistance for one of the many holidays in the year: Christmas (which you can read more about here). But now as the calendar has turned, we are approaching the end of April and the celebration of Easter. (more…)

Steps to community integration

April 18, 2011

Hunger is just one side of a very complicated set of problems. Housing, income, employment, food and more are all part of what is called the social determinants of health.

A recent video highlights some new thinking in the region on helping people get off the streets and into housing.  As  our executive director John Neufeld sums up:

“Homelessness is a complex issue that impacts individuals and our community on many levels.  There are no simple solutions but that doesn’t mean we’re unable to create effective change.  The STEP Home video shows how meaningful change can happen when progressive Regional Government, community agencies, and the broader community collaborate to address an issue.  This video reminds people that there are no simple cookie-cutter methods but we can do the work creatively, make a difference, and save money in the broader system.”

We have seen first hand the level of commitment the workers at the various community agencies show.  The House of Friendship’s own Brandon, who speaks in the video, often brings people in to receive a hamper, working closely with them and ensuring that they get whatever support they need.

York University academic Dennis Raphael highlights the role that housing, food and income play in supporting health.  He will be in town April 27 to give a talk organized by the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre.  I’ve spoken of him previously (here). I encourage you to have a look at his The Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts (a free .pdf download here) which is an excellent introduction to fact that poverty means more than an empty wallet and fewer options: it cuts years off your life and can burden you with many chronic ailments like diabetes.

More details of his talk can be found by clicking here for a .pdf flyer or by calling Gebre at the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre.  His number is (519) 745-4404.

May this video and the upcoming talk spark conversations and awareness, and remind us of our own humanity and call to celebrate and care for each other.

Why we fight hunger

April 15, 2011

Time is not measured by the years that we live. But by the deeds that we do and the joys that we give.  – Helen Steiner Rice


Putting the final touches on packing a hamper for one of the many families we served today.

Volunteer appreciation week is coming to an end today.  For the last two weeks we’ve tried to highlight the different ways that volunteers make a difference here. We’ve really enjoyed this opportunity to share some of the joy to be had each week working together with this amazing group of people.

I wanted to finish the week with a few words from someone we helped in March:

“Thank you for all your hard work and the time you put into making food hampers available for us.  Asking for the extra help has been hard, but I know you are there to help when I need it most…”

March was full of surprises again.  While January and February this year were a little slower than last year, March decided it would break more records, and yet again, we packed the most hampers ever in a single month, coming out at 3 313 hampers (versus 3 305 last year) to 2 850 households made up of over 6 600 people.

It’s not a huge increase over last year, but it was a lot of very busy days spent trying to keep up with the phone calls and requests by family after family.  If we didn’t have volunteers, would we be able to help that many people?

No.  It’s pretty simple. Those people would have to make do with less, or even nothing, since we would have probably had to turn them away empty-handed.

Volunteers have built this program up, they keep it running, and they make sure the job gets done.  It’s never easy for a person to walk in here and ask for help; last year a woman told us that it took her three days to build up the courage to walk through our door after the initial call to set up a file.  However that was after the two months it took her friends and family to finally convince her to call in the first place.

When she left she knew that she wasn’t alone.  Our volunteers will be there to help when times are tough.

Can you DIG it?

April 15, 2011

Our friends at the Food Bank of Waterloo Region have set themselves an ambitious goal this May.  They want to move a mountain of food in one day and they need your help!

Last year they thought they would try something new.  Instead of running a spring food drive over a few weeks, they thought that it would be more exciting and engaging to focus all that effort into a single day.   They set themselves a big goal: collect 150,000 pounds of food in one day.  They rolled up their sleeves, gathered a team of volunteers and got to work.

And what a lot of work it was!   Literally, a mountain of food was collected during one day and then shared with the many community agencies in Kitchener and Waterloo in the months that followed. (more…)

Preparing a meal for friends

April 14, 2011

Rupert's working in the lobby before we open the doors for the day. Soon this space will be full of people waiting for food hampers.

When the doors open at eleven a big rush comes through our building. A large number of patrons enter to pick up food hampers, and the warehouse fills up with more people to pack and sort through food. For me this all happens in between answering the phone, explaining the program to first time visitors and trying to figure out how best to accommodate different special diets and requests. But the end result is walking back and forth from my desk to the warehouse between 11 and 4:15 to hand in food slips into a waiting wooden box, where they will be picked up by an awaiting volunteer hamper packer.

This afternoon, we’ve just received a large group of people who just took the number 18 bus here.  There are a few single people, a woman with a stroller and a couple who are here for the first time. Every half hour to an hour we get another bus, and the people who walk, drive, bike or get a ride are often who we serve in between.

When requests slow down we often yell out to the warehouse to let our volunteers know there is a hamper available, because they are often filling time by doing another task in the warehouse. Some volunteers answer back more enthusiastically than others. Take Connie for example, in this situation when the slip drops into the empty box she’ll calls out “Haaamperrrraama!” (more…)

The Value of One, the Power of Many

April 13, 2011

“Those are a lot of garbage bags,” Matt observed early Friday morning, “people are definitely doing a little spring cleaning.” The front of the warehouse, where we store incoming non-food donations, is piled with bagged clothing like stacks of potatoes during the Potato Blitz. We faced a dilemma. With so many donated clothes, we always struggle to distribute them quickly before more arrives. That’s when Wouda, one of our long-term volunteers piped up to say, “It’s great!  I’ve got something to really keep me busy now!”

Although we are primarily a food program, we also accept clothing and other household donations. In the same way that the food we receive must be sorted and repacked, so too must these non-food items be taken out of their bags and put on hangers to be displayed in the lobby. Over ten years ago, when Wouda brought a friend in to collect a hamper, she noticed that the clothing area could use some attention. She has been responding to that need ever since, dedicating her weekday mornings to this cause.

“I just love it. I love all of it,” Wouda giggled as she surveyed the bags of treasures. She explained to me that only a week ago, there were barely any items for the lobby. She kept busy that week working on potatoes instead, but was concerned by the lack of donations that normally fill our waiting area. “Now,” she said smiling, “the donation bin is overflowing!”

Wouda peeks out from behind a few of the garbage bags of clothing we received on Friday.

Things like this happen all the time. Just when we are beginning to wonder if we will run out of size four diapers, the Food Bank tells us they just received a shipment of them. Just when we are starting to frown at the size of our hampers, we receive an unexpected donation of food. The only way we are able to make use of this good fortune is through the power of our volunteers. Wouda isn’t the only one who has to process this mountain of clothing – she is assisted by the many other volunteers who keep this place bustling. (more…)

Let’s play a game!

April 12, 2011

Each day our program works with a big group of generous people who continually share their time to help out their local community.  They are an amazing group that includes people from different nationalities, experiences and generations.  Each one has their unique jokes and stories and something to teach us.

On a regular basis these volunteers are all working towards the same goal: helping people receive food assistance. However over the last few days I asked most of our volunteers to work towards another goal: playing a game to help me write this blog post! What was the game might you ask? Good question! The game was called “fill-in-the-blank”. I presented everyone with two phrases, and these are some of the answers I received: (more…)