Archive for May, 2011

Hunger Awareness Day is today!

May 31, 2011

Today is Hunger Awareness Day, a day that we can draw attention to the problem of hunger, and how we can work together to fix it.  More info is at this link via Food Banks Canada.

Why is it that Hunger persists and poverty strips people of choices in our communities?  Many of us woke up this morning and had a choice of what to eat today.  Many others were not so lucky.

This year between January and May we have distributed over 14,000 hampers of Emergency Food at our program alone.  A lot of the food in those hampers went to children.

So what is the big picture? Why is this happening and what you do as a single person?  Food Banks Canada has created a video to highlight the need and to suggest some options.

You can get involved with us in a variety of ways (more info here) – especially through donations and by volunteering.  Talking about hunger with your friends and family is also a great step.  Awareness of hunger is important because all to often the large number of people in need is not widely known.

Alone, Food Banks won’t make it go away.  We can help meet the needs of most of those people, but we need everyday people to help take the steps, ask the hard questions and take an honest look at why so many people are without one of life’s most basic necessities.

Let us know in the comments section what you are doing for Hunger Awareness day and what you think of the campaign. Join the conversation and help us end hunger together.

Volunteer Spotlight: Stephanie

May 30, 2011

Stephanie has been volunteering with us once a week since the end of March. She is currently in her third year of Medieval Studies at the University of Waterloo. I had never heard of this program before talking to Stephanie, which makes sense since she told me that there are only three universities that offer it in Ontario. After graduating she’s hoping to use this degree in a career as a teacher or writer. (more…)

Looking for a cure

May 26, 2011

Dealing with cancer is a devastating situation all on its own. After being diagnosed you’re given a sudden shock that will change your life in a dramatic and serious way. Many people are pushing you to maintain a healthy and balanced diet, while keeping a low-level of stress in between numerous appointments with doctors and other health specialists or chemotherapy treatments. But on top of this you’re also expected to remain on top of your daily obligations such as paying bills and cleaning your house. However dealing with cancer, while living in a low-income, brings a whole new set of challenges to an already difficult situation.

Anna (whose name has been changed for confidentiality) recently told me about the struggles she’s been facing since she was diagnosed with cancer. She’s here today for a food hamper to help address one of the many struggles she’s facing as a single mother of two teenaged children: food. Though her children are able to help out with various tasks around the house, she doesn’t want to burden them or depend on them too much as she’s scared that this may hinder them from following their own personal dreams. Therefore she’s doing her best to stay strong and be a positive role model for her children.

While life continues to throw curve balls at her, she continues working hard to find a way to overcome her many challenges. For example: after learning she had breast cancer last year and undergoing various treatments, she soon realized that it would not be possible to continue working based on her current health and energy levels. Because of this new change in her life, she was directed to apply for social assistance (also known as Ontario Works).

Unfortunately Anna was declined social assistance. But there is a reason why. After the caseworkers at the Region of Waterloo began processing her application they discovered that she had a small amount of money in a savings account from a settlement from a few years back. Therefore Anna’s application was declined because, in their opinion, she was not in an immediate need of money to pay for basics such as food and shelter.

In the mean time Anna has been working to live off her savings. However various social workers and other professionals that she’s been working with over the last few months suggested that Anna submit an application for a disability pension (CCP-D).

On that advice she submitted an application in November. About a month ago she learned that they rejected her application. (To read about some of the reasons people are rejected, click here.) Therefore now in between all her many medical appointments and raising her children, she’s going to work with her oncologist, professionals with the Hospice of Waterloo Region and legal aid counselors to file an appeal. But until then she’ll continue to live on $600 a month from the child support of her ex-husband.

Living in such a modest income, food assistance makes a big difference to her family. However it’s challenging for her to try to carry all this food, with her struggling health concerns. Also bus drivers typically discourage people from bringing on carts, wagons or strollers on the route near her house because she’s on a school bus route, so the bus is easily and quickly filled with passengers alone.

An example hamper for a family of three people.

Thankfully someone was able to provide her with a ride today. Though it involved her planning ahead a few days in advance, it’ll make a world of difference to her – especially since our hampers tend to have more fruits and vegetables than other food assistance programs. We’re also aware of some other alterations we can make, based on her special diet needs, to improve the assistance that this hamper can provide to her overall diet and health. (To read about an example of one of the special diets we accommodate, click here.)

Overall she’s doing her best to find any other alternative to avoid coming to our program, because she doesn’t want us to feel like she’s over-using or abusing our service. But today with some convincing I tried to explain that this is the reason food banks still exist today. Because sometimes beyond your best control and best efforts, people will face an unexpected or difficult life situation and as a society we’ve agreed to stand behind them to make sure they didn’t get left behind. Everyone deserves to access to food, and when you can’t buy it yourself, we’ll try to make ourselves as accessible as possible. Anna is no exception, and hopefully soon her situation will soon improve.

Getting personal – the rising cost of food and the Food Bank of Waterloo Region

May 25, 2011

Today, we have a guest blog from Wendi Campbell, the executive director of the Food Bank of Waterloo Region.

The Food Bank is a major partner of the House of Friendship.  They support the food needs of many of our programs, most significantly of the Emergency Food Hamper Program, but also the Hostel, our community and residential programs.  They are the public face of hunger in our community (that donation bin in your local grocery store is likely theirs) working hard to collect, store and then share a tremendous bounty with our neighbours in need.  I don’t think we can sing their praises enough!  Certainly, our work would be much harder without them.

To learn more about them you can visit their website here or follow their twitter feed @FoodBankWatReg here.  They also have a facebook page here if you want to keep up to date on what is happening there.

This blog post is part of series looking at the rising cost of food.  Melissa has already blogged about the impact is has had on the food hamper program by looking at the rising cost of potatoes.  Tony Bender and John Neufeld have shared some of their thoughts on what higher food prices mean for the House of Friendship   In our next, we will get some perspective from the local farm community.

Today, Wendi reminds us of the challenges faced by individuals each day and Hunger Awareness Day, (more info at this link) which is May 31st. Stay tuned to this blog and the Food Banks website and facebook page for more details on what will be happening in this region.

But, without further adieu, here is what Wendi has to say about the rising cost of food and our neighbours in the region…


People helping people – the rising cost of food and House of Friendship

May 23, 2011

Many of us at House of Friendship are starting to wonder how rising food prices will impact the number of demands being made by the people we serve, or how many new people will need to start using any one of our programs for support. Currently many people don’t have a lot of money for the essential groceries after paying for things like shelter and clothing. Thus as food prices continue to rise it’s likely that the supper tables and pantries of low or fixed income households will suffer the most. So on that note, and as I mentioned in my introductory post in this series, I want to take some time to share the thoughts of John Neufeld (our Executive Director) and Tony Bender (Community Services Director) on this developing issue.

John Neufeld

John had an interesting approach to answering how rising food prices may impact House of Friendship. Overall House of Friendship provides a wide variety of programs so we encounter a wide variety of requests and various people needing support. According to John, “the role of House of Friendship is to listen to the needs of our community and then respond. Those needs may be a result of increasing food costs, lack of housing, immigration challenges, increased mental health and addiction issues, or a host of other factors. House of Friendship responds by bringing awareness to our community of the challenges our neighbours are encountering and then helps mobilize the community to respond collectively. We are fortunate to be in a region that has a history of responding with compassion and leadership. House of Friendship believes strongly that there is no “them,” there is only “us.” We are all part of the same community and one person’s loss diminishes all of us.”  This is the basic philosophy that we’ve been trying to operate under since House of Friendship was established back in 1939, and all of us are guided by it as we go about dealing with the many situations that people experience within our community. (more…)

Waste challenge

May 20, 2011

With increased media attention on the issues of food waste and increasing food prices I’ve become more interested and concerned with my own food habits. Like everyone else, I’m trying to find ways to cut down my grocery bill and be a more effective shopper – without missing out on eating a (somewhat) healthy diet…and the occasional treats!

After reading an article in The Record back in January about food Waste, which you may remember from the posts that Matt and I wrote (if not, click our names to read the articles), I started following the online blog of Jonathan Bloom. His blog features links to many different articles that highlight issues around food waste; and lately he’s made a few mentions around the idea of “best-before” and “expiration” dates. (more…)

The side of potatoes you haven’t seen… and the rising cost of food

May 20, 2011

Annually House of Friendship utilizes well over 220 000 pounds of potatoes within all of our programs. Therefore a successful Potato Blitz campaign is important for many different programs, patrons and services. You may remember some of the stories Allison shared from various events of the Potato Blitz back in February, but don’t worry – I’m not here to repeat those. Instead I’m going to shine a new light on potatoes. We’ve talked about the nutrition of potatoes and how valuable potatoes are to the diets of our patrons, but we haven’t talked about the cost of potatoes. The cost of potatoes has a significant impact on the fundraising efforts of our Potato Blitz drive each February – and thus provides a glimpse at the side of potatoes we haven’t shown you yet! (more…)

Volunteer Spotlight: Alexandra

May 12, 2011

Alexandra has traveled quite a distance before settling down in Kitchener. Originally she is from Colombia; but many years ago she moved to Chicago, Illinois. For over ten years she lived in a Spanish community in Chicago. Although when she was looking for a change of pace one of her friends mentioned that Kitchener was a beautiful city to live in. And now she’s here!

Alexandra has been living in this area for about a year and a half now. For about the same amount of time she’s been volunteering with our program. WOW! She comes in a few times a week to help us out with various tasks in the warehouse. Overall she’s volunteered for about 215 hours! But let’s hear more about what she has to say about herself:

How did you hear about House of Friendship?

“The outreach worker at my local community center directed me to this program. I am a mom with two kids who was starting my life all over again so I needed a hamper. Then when I was here I asked if this place needed volunteers.”

Why is volunteering important to you?

“I enjoy coming here because it helps me learn English. While I lived in Chicago I was always speaking Spanish, but then I came here and everyone speaks English so I’ve started to learn. Also this experience helps me build relationships to use for job references in the future.”

How has volunteering made an impact in your life?

“Coming here has built my confidence in speaking English. But I’m excited for the people here because everyone is so nice and works well together. It’s so impressive to see the service that people get here. This program always gives out such fresh and healthy food. It’s amazing because my country never had any help like this.”

What’s your favourite job at our program?

“I don’t mind bagging any food – except potatoes. They’re really dirty!”

Note: Alexandra probably has no idea how important her work is bagging things like fruit when she’s in to volunteer. Let’s do the math! Each bag contains about 5 pieces of fruit. One tote can hold about 20 bags of fruit – or 100 pieces of fruit. Looking at our average family size, which is 2.2 people, this means that each tote of fruit that she bags allows us to provide fruit to about 45 hampers (depending on the quotas for the day).

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

“I like swimming and reading religious books. My kids keep me very busy though. I have a 17-year old son and a 9-year-old girl. Being a single mom isn’t easy because my kids need me to be so many things for them throughout the day. But as a single mom I feel like I can do anything! Every day gets easier.”

Alexandra you’re a remarkably strong woman with very interesting stories to share. I’m sure you’re future will only continue to bring good things for you. We’re glad that you’ve been able to settle in to the area and help us each week. Thank you!

Celebrating Our Volunteers Some More

May 6, 2011

Wednesday, April 27th was an important evening, not just because the Montreal Canadiens were playing. With National Volunteer Week just behind us, we hosted our annual Volunteer Appreciation Dinner at Glencairn Mennonite Brethren Church. Susan Pries prepared a delicious feast and we celebrated, once again, the many volunteers who contribute so much time and energy to all the programs within our agency.

Our blog features many of the volunteers who make up the Emergency Food Hamper Program. But consider this: House of Friendship consists of 18 different programs. Each of those programs utilizes the power of volunteers who, like the people you’ve met on our blog, have their own stories, gifts and motivations. At the volunteer banquet, we attempt to bring all those individuals together in order to acknowledge their unique contributions and give voice to their collective strength.

Between the 400 people who volunteer regularly during the year, and the 600 people who contribute their time during Christmas, House of Friendship hosts  approximately 1000 volunteers every year. That amounts to 50,000 hours of service and is the equivalent of 25 full-time positions!

It is clear that volunteers have a huge impact on the services we are able to provide. Often however, the uniqueness of these people is overshadowed by our focus on the difference they make as a whole. This year for the first time, three volunteers spoke about their specific journeys toward and within one of House of Friendship’s programs. (more…)

A step away from the unexpected

May 4, 2011

Taking the first step into our building can be a challenging one. Even if you’ve accessed our program before, it never gets easier to accept that despite all your hard-work and many of your best efforts, you are still struggling to meet your basic needs, such as having enough food for a meal.

Unfortunately this is the reality for John (this is not his real name), a single male who was in for a hamper. Despite the fact that he’s been in a few times over the last few months, it’s not getting easier to accept that the original situation that brought him to our program about four years ago is yet to be resolved.

Before needing to access food assistance programs John was employed in a steady and high-paying endeavor. He was in a service position that showed no sign of slowing down, as it was service that many people rely on. For the most part he had a perfect situation going…until he experienced a bad day at work.

While completing a job at the side of the road, John was hit by a drunk driver. He sustained numerous injuries, which have taken him many years to overcome.

But thankfully now he’s doing well, when you consider where he’s come from. Most of what’s left is a permanent injury in his elbow, from some lingering bone fragments that will require surgery to potentially improve. However should he chose to forego the surgery and the complications that may follow, he’s left with a life of being careful not to bump his elbow – unless he wants to feel that sharp shooting pain for the next few weeks.

After the accident he had a brief waiting period before he was put on his company’s disability benefits. Between these benefits and his personal savings, he felt as if he’d be able to overcome this drastic life change. Well that was until he was informed that he would be transferred onto Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) benefits.

WSIB benefits came in a timely manner; so John was able to stay up-to-date on his bills for the most part. However this was until one of the caseworkers at WSIB noticed that some of the paperwork was missing to complete his claim.

Because his file was missing certain documents, he was suddenly cut off the WSIB benefits – and for almost no fault of his own. Somewhere in the line up, whether it was his employer, the hospital or another agency, someone forget to fax over the appropriate paperwork. This left John to start back at step one. He needed to gather everything again before they could re-process his claim.

John was facing a more difficult challenge than he would anticipate though. His previous employer seemed to neglect to return his phone calls or to make the arrangements to send off the paperwork. Also he was somewhat restricted from entering the building because of liability issues. Then on top of that it’s taken months to track down all the necessary accident reports and records from hospitals and other involved parties. But he’s still missing some of the documents, because he can’t gain access to them.

Without these documents his claim cannot go through. So it’s almost certain that John will need to rely on the support of our program, since he’s basically run through any and all personal savings.

But today while I listened to his story, I could tell he wasn’t upset about having to go through all the steps to make his claim. He simply felt hopeless to find an end to his problem. He doesn’t know where to turn or who can help him get those final documents from his previous employer, except a lawyer that he obviously cannot afford to hire. So today just before he received his food hamper, I offered him some resources from our pamphlet rack that may be able to help him – or at least should be able to point him in a better direction. (You can also read about other referrals our staffs make by clicking here.)

Getting this referral put a smile on his face, which he says hasn’t been there in a long time. It meant a lot to him that someone was able to listen to him vent about his problems and potentially offer the solution he’s been looking for.

Overall John’s doing his best to stay positive, but often finds it more and more difficult given all the twists and turns he’s facing through this life changing situation. He never once would have thought that he would ever be only one step away from needing help with food or to pay his rent, since he’s facing an upcoming eviction.

Instead John has a new appreciation for all the times he donated food; and all the people who continue to donate food to support people facing similar situations and tragedies such as this. Many of these people never expect to need to take the first step into our building; but often appreciate the listening ear or the referral to another agency that can help them overcome the reasons they’re struggling. It’s usually such a brief period where people need help, since on average we distribute approximately one to three hampers for every family we serve. But each time we offer them some food for the next couple of days, we know we’re making a world of difference to a household facing numerous and diverse challenges.

We’ll never stop people from needing food banks, because situations will always exist to create an emergency. But thankfully we’re here to make sure that people like John are still able to eat at least one meal before the end of their day.