Archive for September, 2011

What a party

September 30, 2011

When Sara approached the counter to register for a food hamper it was very clear that she was uncomfortable. As I talked to her she told me that the crowds were making her uncomfortable. She doesn’t like to be around a lot of people even on a good day. And lately she’s starting to forget what a good day feels like.

My fridge never stays full long. I have five teenagers at home, plus my husband, Robert and I. My kids never feel full – no matter what they eat or how much they eat. I never thought I’d be spending this much on groceries. I always grew up having enough money to buy whatever I wanted; but now I barely have enough money to buy all the things we need. And it’s not going to be any easier now that my best friend, Amy moved in. She was evicted from her apartment after not being able to make her rent again. She told me it’d be temporary until she can get a full-time job again. But I knew she wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for her bad-tempered boyfriend, Josh mouthing off to his employer. He deserved to get fired for it. But doesn’t he care about paying the rent? It almost seems like he doesn’t care how he’s hurting Amy. I’m not a fan of Josh but I know Amy loves him and she’s a close friend. So I agreed to let them move in with me for a bit because I couldn’t live with the idea of her living on the streets. And she won’t go into a shelter because they won’t be allowed to be together.
Now they’re going to be staying with me for a lot longer. Recently Amy was in a terrible car accident. So Robert and I are trying to make the best of our even fuller house. As if things weren’t busy enough we’ve got two more people to sit at the table everyday. Our house is a big party, except without the fun. Sometimes it can be hard to have friends. You don’t want to turn them away but it’s not easy to take them in when you don’t have a lot to spare.

Imagine being at Sara’s table even before getting a food hamper. Since there are so many people in the house and barely any income to cover all the expenses it’s more than likely that you’ve been eating a lot of cheaper foods like rice, beans, potatoes and pasta – all the starchy foods that aren’t necessarily the healthiest choices but make you feel the fullest. These might not be the foods you’re craving at the end of the day; it’s just all the grocery budget can afford so that everyone can continue to see food on the table.

Now that Amy and Josh are living with you things are even tighter. No one wanted to give their identification to register for a food hamper program. They have a lot of fear and uncertainty. They’ve never had to come to a food bank before. But what other options are there? How many more days can everyone skip eating a meal? As a parent, how many more times can you listen to your children tell you there’s nothing to eat? There’s a clear choice: go hungry or ask for a food hamper. Which would you do?

Everyone is anxiously waiting for you to come home. And you can’t wait to get out of our building. This is an experience you never imagined living. But you know that this food hamper means so many different things: you’ll have the money to pay the rent and other bills, and you’ll also all be able to eat dinner for the first time in a few days. Then we call your name.

You thank the volunteer who packed your hamper after giving you the food hamper. But before packing the boxes in your car you take a second to look through the food that you received:

This is a hamper that we packed for a family of seven people.

You’re thankful for what you’ve received but you can’t stop thinking about a few of the things you were hoping to see. There are no eggs or cheese…the kids won’t really like that cereal…and I’ve never cooked cabbage before. And wait, what can the kids take as a snack to school? You’ve got a million questions and thoughts running through your head. Plus you know once you get this stuff home the kids will impulsively want to eat a lot of the items, especially the pretzels and cookies. How can you ask them to wait? This food is all you have until your child tax benefit comes through in a few days.

This food is a blessing and a challenge all in one bundle. You’re going to have to adjust your cooking habits and food preferences a little because what other choice do you have? You could spend a few dollars from your bank account but then your hydro may be cut off because they won’t let your overdue charges run much higher. If you still have a phone setup, you can look forward to the inevitable collection agency calls. Then how do you explain that to the kids? Finally you decide that you’ll find a way to mange through the food because a little sacrifice now will bring better things in the future. Hopefully.

Volunteer Party 2011!

September 29, 2011

You have to be a very special person to volunteer.  You’re giving up your time, using up your energy and sometimes putting yourself in new and adverse situations.  One thing is for certain, volunteers help make this community, province and country a great place to live in.  There are many, many opportunities out there in our community, many of them you can find through visiting places like the Volunteer Action Centre.

Our volunteers definitely make a difference, and we are very certain they are special people.   You can meet a few of them by reading a few profiles we have done of them, (click here to see) and maybe joining them by volunteering with us (info here).

Each year we take some time and have a nice BBQ dinner for them.  Bethany Evangelical Missionary Church opened their doors to us again earlier this month to provide the space and with the help of an impressive list of donors and supporters we were able to throw a party for them and express our gratitude.  Thanks go to Allison for doing all of the work leading up to the party, organizing, booking the space and making sure we had the supplies we needed.

Yesterday I posted about the huge impact that our volunteers have each month.  They literally move mountains of food each month to help a huge range of people.  This BBQ is just part of how we say thank you to them each day there are here with us.

Local businesses were also very supportive and donated a lot of very nice raffle prizes which our volunteers were able to take home at the end of the night.  Special thanks go out to:

The Museum, Boston Pizza, Frederick Brunswick Bowl, Galaxy Cinemas, Starbucks, Tim Hortons, Frederick Twin Cinemas, The Cake Box, Canadian Tire, Whole lot-a-Gelata, Waterloo Region museum, and Flourish Florals for again donating beautiful centrepieces for our tables.

Extra special thanks go to our volunteer Daniel, who not only donated a handmade art piece for the raffle, but also composed a song in honour of his fellow volunteers!


Volunteer Spotlight: Devin

September 28, 2011

It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to visit with Devin as he stacked up cases of juice boxes in preparation for the morning rush.  Devin has been volunteering on a weekly basis since October 2000, accumulating over 830 hours.  Devin has made a big commitment of time over the years, and to honour his dedication to the Emergency Food Hamper Program, we wanted to share a little more about this faithful volunteer.

How did you hear about House of Friendship?

“I first heard about House of Friendship through my worker and I thought I might like to give it a try!”

 What do you enjoy about volunteering at EFHP?

“I like working with all the people that volunteer and work here.  I especially enjoy seeing my buddy, Matt.  Before he was my boss, I used to give him a hard time!”

Matt is the volunteer coordinator at the Emergency Food Hamper Program.  If you are interested in volunteering at the EFHP, call 519-742-0662.  We would love to hear from you!

 What’s your favourite job at our program?

“I don’t really have a favourite job that I do here.  I just do whatever jobs need to get done.”

 How has volunteering impacted your life?

“Volunteering is a way for me to get out and about.   It helps make the days go by faster.  Volunteering really gets me working hard, and I think that’s a good thing.”

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

“I have been working at the Kinsman Centre for quite some time now.  When I am there, I am usually working in production.”

 What kind of activities or hobbies do you enjoy when you aren’t working or volunteering?

“I love visiting with my parents, brothers and sisters.  I am involved in Sports for Special Athletes.  With that group, I play mini golf in the summers, and I am involved in a bowling league when it gets colder out.  I also sometimes go to the movies on the weekends with the group home that I live at.”

It was great to get to know a little more about you, Devin!  Good luck with your bowling season!

Big numbers are a problem

September 28, 2011

It is hard to get a handle on big numbers.  What do 5,000 or more people look like gathered in one place?  What does it look like to serve food to the 2200+ households those 5000+ people live in? It is hard to imagine, and often, even harder to describe. But, on average each month this year we have served that many households and people.  Sometimes, we have served even more.

We can give you a lot of statistics to help you understand how our donors and volunteers make a difference to all the people we serve, but after a while, lots of big numbers lose their meaning – they go in one ear and out the other, and if I asked you later, you would be hard pressed to remember them. Why?  Well, we, as humans, have a hard time wrapping our heads around big numbers in meaningful ways. It helps to have a frame of reference to put numbers in context.  People like hearing and sharing stories, they don’t like memorizing tables of numbers.  We are social beings, not walking excel spreadsheets.

But, I have a dilemma! I have some numbers I want to share with you! To help you understand all the ways our volunteers help, I have broken some of the important stats from this year down a little into things that might mean something to the average person.

Lets start at the beginning…

source: MCC website

On average, each month our volunteers help over 500 infants and toddlers!  If approximately 20 infants and toddlers fit into a day care, that’s translated into about 25 day care centers a month!  This is something to think about the next time you drop your kids off with a caregiver on your way to work, or when you give one of your grandchildren a hug.

How many school age children do we serve?

source: Transport Canada

At one point in your life you have probably ridden in a school bus. Especially if you grew up in a rural community like I did. Assuming that 50 school age kids fit on a school bus, each month our volunteers send home food to feed 30 school buses full of kids! That’s about one and half buses full each day we are open.  Think about that next time you’re stuck in traffic behind a school bus full of kids making faces at you.

What can you fit over 3000 adults into?

source: de zeen magazine

If about 300 adults fit into an apartment building, then on average, each month our volunteers help get out enough food to feed 11 buildings full of people!  Think about that the next time you are  shopping downtown walking past the apartment blocks. If you live in an apartment building yourself, walk up five flights of stairs and, on average, all the people living on those floors would equal the number of people we serve each day we are open.


source: Alabama local news

And finally, if about 300 people fit into a bingo hall, every two months our volunteers help feed a bingo hall full of senior citizens!  I was a bit of a loss to come up with a good yardstick to measure our service to seniors.  But, nevertheless, we called up a local bingo hall and they said that the most they could fit in at one time was about 300 people.  So, every two months our volunteers will call out BINGO and reflect on the 300 seniors our food went to help.

Generally, many people who work with food banks estimate that there are many seniors in our community who need the help but don’t come to us.  Part of the problem is knowledge.  Many of them don’t know we’re here.  The other part of the problem is that it is difficult for them to admit they need the help.

Adding it all up

So, where do our food hampers go?  Each month on average, the food hampers go to 500 infants and toddlers, 1500 school age children, 3000 adults and about 150 senior citizens.   That’s more than one child care centre full of infants and toddlers, one and half school buses of school age kids, half an apartment building of adults and a few tables at a bingo hall of senior citizens every day we are open.

Which is easier to remember?  We would love to hear some feedback from you.  How do you remember important statistics? How can we better share the story of our volunteers and the mountains of food they move to help so many people?

One mitten short of a pair

September 27, 2011

It’s not uncommon for some people to cycle in and out of our program. Often they have spurts of good luck where they’ve got a good job that leaves them with enough money to pay the bills. But then, just as each of our stories demonstrates, life throws some type of curveball to put them back to square one and in a place they never expected to be.

After 23 years of marriage my wife (Taylor) lost her battle with cancer. Losing her has been one of the hardest experiences I think I’ll ever face. I lost my mind for a while. With the grief of losing the love of my life and my best friend I barely want to get out of bed most days. But I’m slowly taking steps to re-building my life one piece at a time. I started going to counseling and got put on some medication to help my depression. This is helping me to accept that things will never be the same. It’s not easy to lose someone. Life doesn’t stop though. I’ve got to make the best out of the worst situation. Slowly I’m learning to cook, do laundry, and to clean the house while remembering to pay the bills. We were a great pair but now it’s just me.

Some days you probably come home wishing that the chaos would stop. Well what if it did? Think about it as if Taylor was your partner. You were there to drive to various appointments, carry them upstairs to bed at the end of the night when they’re too sick to walk, and been there to wipe away all the tears. Now who will wipe away your tears? Who will be there to support you through your struggle?

Not only does this situation put you in emotional turmoil but now you’re in financial stress. You’ve lost part of your income, since Taylor isn’t around to collect a pension anymore. Plus you’ve had additional expenses to cover the cost of the funeral, since you never had the money to save for it in the past.

Now your life has changed in a way that you never would have expected. You’re likely going to rely on food assistance and other social service programs until you can come to terms with the loss of your partner and figure out your finances again. It’s a big adjustment that you never wanted to plan for, but now you’re left without a choice. You’ve got to find a way to adjust to your new situation and pay the bills.

So in the mean time we’ll see you pass through our doors from time to time. We’ll hope that the food hamper will provide you with all the things you’re use to having available at home. And if not you’ll have to try to scrap together the money from somewhere, access another program, or simply go without. You know food banks are working on donations, which means sometimes certain items aren’t available. Either way you know it’s better to have some food than no food at all. That’s really your only choice in this situation; because let’s face it: the creditors and bills won’t stop just because your wife passed away. Instead you’re left to continue fighting to meet your basic needs and hoping that one day soon your struggle will come to an end.

A big kick off to the fall

September 26, 2011

Have you seen this poster recently? What about the donation bins located near the check-out at many grocery stores within the region? Well this is the time of year when they are extremely important to places like the House of Friendship because the Food Bank of Waterloo Region will soon kick off their annual Fall Food Drive!

Yes it’s that time of year again. Though the Food Bank is fortunate to collect many donations each week from local grocery stores, the big shelves at their warehouse are getting empty. Just last Wednesday, my co-worker Raymond was touring their warehouse and mentioned that there were starting to be more empty spaces than full. As a result the Fall Food Drive is kicking off on October 3rd, and running until October 16th. At this time of year programs like ours hope that enough food will be collected to cover the demands placed on the Food Bank over the coming months. How much food is needed? What are we hoping to see? Click here to see the top ten most needed items.

How can you help? Over the coming weeks the Food Bank will be participating in a variety of events that you can have fun attending and help out by donating a few non-perishable products. Please visit their website for more information, but here’s a brief overview to help you mark your calendar:

All of these events are always a lot of fun, and they are a great way to help the Food Bank and our  regional friends (Cambridge Self Help, Woolwich Community Services, Wilmot Family Resource Centre) reach their 375 000 pound target goal for donations. Bringing even one can of food or bag of pasta or rice to each event means you are helping to put a meal together for over 25 500 people who will receive food from food hamper programs in the coming year. From all of us at House of Friendship and the many other food banks throughout the region, thank you in advance for all your generous donations!

Getting down to business

September 23, 2011

Ontario is a province with a wide variety of employment options for a number of people. Each day many people go in to work never thinking they’ll be injured. But as the statistics show, this reality is closer than many of us would think. Let’s take a second to look at some of the facts:

  • Annually about 300 people die and nearly 270 000 more file workers’ compensation claims due to a work related injury or illness. (Source)
  • Each year over 10 000 Ontarians under the age of 25 submit a claim after an injury leaves them unable to return to work for a few days. (Source)
  • In 2008 alone, Ontario reported 488 fatalities and 317 031 claims for work related injuries and illnesses to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). (Source)
  • The injury rates of workers may be much higher because many workers don’t bring the injury to the attention of their employer, or the employer doesn’t submit a claim to WSIB. (Source)

Unfortunately Ronald is living proof of these statistics. After an injury at work, he’s waiting for his claim to be approved by the WSIB board. So in the mean time he’s coming to our program for assistance. It’s likely that he’ll use the six visits we offer in a year within the next month or two; because his family is without an income for a few weeks and can’t wait that long to buy groceries.

I’m a father and husband to a family of five. When people learn that I’m using a food bank they always ask “how did that happen?” or look at me wondering why I can’t find a job to provide for my family. Well I was working at a factory and had 800 pounds of product fall on me. Now I’m lucky to be alive; but it hasn’t been easy. It took the doctors eight years before they realized that the intense pain in my back meant that it was broken. No one would believe me, so it was hard to get any type of compensation. I struggled to convince the doctors that there was something wrong…and when they finally got the medical proof they needed, I was immediately booked in for a surgery. After that my back healed to the point that I was able to continue working at a different job. But as my luck should have it, I had another accident at work and here we are again. As hard as I try to put food on the table, something eventually gets in the way. Then we need to come here for a food hamper until we can figure out where our next paycheck is coming from.

Put yourself into Ronald’s shoes, this is your story now.  After your accident you aren’t even able to work light duty at any of your old jobs. Each one was very labour intensive and your employers are less than understanding. As a result you have now burned through the little amount of vacation pay you had accumulated; and neither job gave any paid sick days so now you have no income.

On top of this your extended family doesn’t support your decision to not return to work after your injuries. Many of them stopped visiting over a year ago because they didn’t want to hear you complain about the injury the doctors couldn’t find. To date, no one has responded to any calls or emails that the doctors finally discovered your back was actually broken.

What do you do? How many weeks could you go without a paycheck? Who would you turn to for help?

It is no surprise that Ronald was directed to our program for assistance. But his family will likely need help paying for school supplies, buying the kids clothes, and paying their rent at the end of the month. So to do all of this Ronald now has a new “job”. His job is to shuffle through the phone book and talk to a variety of people who will point him in various directions to find the services and support he needs to get through this difficult time. Though he may use the 211 services to find the right direction, he’ll still be left at the end of the day with a stack of papers from a variety of social service agencies that he’s come in contact with. And his family can only hope that each agency visit will bring them another step closer to the end of this unfortunate limbo between incomes.


September 20, 2011

One of the big questions we get is “how do I get a hamper?”

It’s a good question.  If you go to a hundred food programs across the country, you will likely have a hundred different experiences.  Each  place is different; there is no standard, but there are similarities.

A while ago, we managed to get our hands on a nice camera, and the staff here were kind enough to take on starring roles in our own re-enactment of getting up the courage to walk through our door, talk to a staff person and get a hamper.  Thanks to Nadir for the camera work, Melissa and Michelle for their acting skills and our volunteers for providing some background.

Take the example of Andrew, who Melissa blogged about last week.  This is likely pretty close to what he would have experienced when visiting our program.  On average we serve about 140 families and individuals each day we are open. Without the hard work of our volunteers and donors we couldn’t do it.

So, we’re obviously not going to win any Oscars, but we hope this video answers some of your questions.

Here are a few things to consider:

The lobby can often be very busy.  How would you feel having this conversation in front of a room of strangers?

Our hampers vary, sometimes a lot.  Is that box of food something you would want to share with your family? What foods do you wish we had that aren’t there?

In the video it’s winter.  How would you get to us if you didn’t have a car or bus fare?  We are here.  What if you lived here?  Kind of a long walk isn’t it?  I hope you have warm boots. Even in summer it’s not a treat.  When it’s really hot out, sometimes it’s worse.  Sunstroke, frostbite or hunger. It’s not an easy choice.

Stay tuned for some more stories from people who have used our program. As you read them, keep this video in the back of your mind.  Each one of them will have gone through this process, sometimes many times, over many years.

Volunteer Spotlight: Paul

September 14, 2011

Paul has been volunteering at the Emergency Food Hamper Program for almost eleven years.  In that time, he has given 1100 hours of his time!  This year alone, he has volunteered over 77 hours.  Paul always has a smile to share with the other volunteers and staff members, making our days a little bit brighter!

How did you hear about House of Friendship?

“I heard about House of Friendship through a lady at the school that I was attending.  She told me that she thought that I might like it, and she was right!”

 What do you enjoy about volunteering at the EFHP?

“I like volunteering here because everyone is so nice.  I also really enjoy the work that I am able to do.  Over the years, I have met a lot of really nice people that are now my friends.”

 What’s your favourite job at our program?

“My favourite job is bagging bulk food.  I like that while I am doing this I get to listen to country music on the radio.  I also love my break when I get to visit with people in the lunch room.”

 How has volunteering impacted your life?

“Volunteering has been really good for me because it gets me out and doing things that I love to do.  It makes me feel happy to know that I am doing something for others.”

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

“I have been working at Zeller’s for as long as I can remember.  I am one of the greeters there, who welcomes all the shoppers.  On occasion, I also pass out flyers!”

What kind of activities or hobbies do you enjoy when you aren’t working or volunteering?

“I love listening to music, especially Kenny Rogers.  I enjoy watching all different types of movies, like comedies and actions.  I love emailing and talking to friends on the phone when we can’t see each other.  When I get together with friends, I like to do fun stuff like going for walks, playing board games and bowling at Waterloo Town Bowl.”

What was one of your favourite memories? 

“One of my favourite memories is getting to meet Kenny Rogers with my dad. That was so exciting!  He is one of my favourite singers and that meeting is something that I won’t forget!”

Paul, it was great to have the chance to sit down with you and chat about what you like to when you aren’t volunteering here!

Where it all begins

September 13, 2011

Take a second to imagine this situation:

You walk up to your car to find everything is thrown around. Sadly your car has been broken into. Even more distressing is that you left your wallet, which contains all your identification and a few hundred dollars that you just took out of the bank to pay some bills and buy some groceries. You only left for a brief minute to drop something off to a friend; but it was long enough to throw your life for a loop. Though you wish you could start putting this behind you and go to the bank to pull out more money, there isn’t any left. That money was all you had left between now and your next paycheck that’s over a week away.

Unfortunately this “imaginary” situation actually happened to Andrew.

Andrew in the middle of a streak of bad luck. He’s already borrowed money from his family to cover his bills a few months ago. His family didn’t want to give him the money; but also didn’t want to see him on the streets. They agreed to help him just that once. He’s asked for money since and been turned away each time with the advice to work harder or manage his money better.

Because money has been tight for Andrew he’s drifted away from some of his friends. They always want to go out for dinner, a movie, or golfing – nothing that Andrew can afford after paying his bills. He still knows that he’s got debts to repay to his family, and also some of his friends. However of the one or two friends he does still manage to stay in touch with, they often ask him to loan them cash from time-to-time, which he knows they’ll never be able to pay back.

So now what does he do when there’s no one to fall back on? His current job isn’t giving over-time so there’s no way for him to get ahead. He’s put out resumes to take on a part-time job but no one is willing to hire him. And switching jobs isn’t much of an option because he can’t wait a few weeks for another paycheck starts, let alone, take the time off work to go to an interview. Thus coming here for food assistance is Andrew’s last resort.

When your expenses don’t go as planned, or you encounter a situation you didn’t expect, food budgets suffer first. Food is the one expense that doesn’t have a fixed value. Though you know how much money it takes to feed yourself or your family for a week, it doesn’t mean that the amount of money is always available. Therefore it’s not surprising that a significant number of people accessing our program carefully plan out their six visits a year in their food budget.

Stories like Andrews are in abundance at our program. Though the beginning of the story is different for everyone, where it all ends is the same: here, or a similar program.

This post is the beginning to a series. Each story and person is connected to the same basic problem: no money, no food, and no other option. Next in the series Matt will talk about our intake process and what it actually looks like to get a hamper. Following that we’ll provide you with a few more glimpses of the many beginnings that bring people into a situation of needing food assistance. By the end you’ll probably be surprised at how many similarities you have with Andrew, or any of the other stories that we’ll highlight.