Archive for October, 2011

Volunteer Spotlight: Holly

October 26, 2011

Holly has been volunteering at the Emergency Food Hamper Program since May 2010.  Since that time, she has volunteered over 80 hours here.  As she packs hampers, she keeps people laughing and smiling with her animated character.

How did you hear about House of Friendship?

“I heard about the House of Friendship through some family friends when I first moved to the area a few years ago, and thought that this program might be something that I would like to get involved with.”

 What do you enjoy about volunteering at the EFHP?

“I enjoy the interactions that I have with the hamper recipients.  I also love getting to know the other volunteers here, like Bob and Brian.”

What’s your favourite job at our program?

“My favourite job here is packing the hampers because of those opportunities I get to interact with the people coming in to get food.”

How has volunteering impacted your life?

“Volunteering has given me a better appreciation for others less fortunate.  It gives me more of a perspective on the need that exists in our community.  Before volunteering here, I wasn’t aware of how many people were receiving food assistance in the community.  It has really opened my eyes.”

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

“I volunteer on a weekly basis at the Canadian Mental Health Association as a crisis/distress line volunteer.  On occasion, I volunteer at Sunnydale community centre.”

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

“What don’t I like doing?!  I enjoy travelling and experiencing new things.  I also love movies, especially the ‘rom coms’ (romantic comedies).  I guess you can say that I am a ‘utilizer’ of Netflix.  I love to hang out with my gals and make dog voices on occasion.”

Thanks Holly for sitting down to chat for a few minutes about what keeps you busy outside of volunteering here! 

Tears of change

October 21, 2011

We’ve said it before that one of the first times people come to our program is one of the hardest. Not only are they answering personal questions to complete strangers in front of many other people waiting for a food hamper; but they’re also coming to terms with the fact that despite every effort to support themselves they need food assistance. You may remember our intake process video from Matt’s post, but here’s the other side to the intake story. Let me introduce Ashley, a single mom of five children.

I never imagined coming to a food bank – especially with all my children with me. I try to work as many hours as possible while they’re in school but it doesn’t always work. If one of my kids gets sick, I have to call in to work because I don’t have anyone that can baby-sit, and I can’t afford to hire anyone. That’s part of what set me back actually: one kid got sick after another. My boss has been really understanding which helps. She’s a single mom too…The people who helped me register for a food hamper were really nice. I didn’t want to be too greedy taking everything from the checklist, because I knew I’d get paid in about a week and could then go buy these things. My kids are great in understanding that sometimes I can’t provide them with everything. But it really helped that the people at the counter tried to put me at ease and encourage me to take more food items if we didn’t have them at home, even if I could afford to buy them in a few days …I had no idea how much food that would mean though. I broke down in tears after the volunteer finished packing my hamper. Someone who has never met me before just changed my life more than I could ever imagine.

If you’re already a single parent you may understand how Ashley is feeling through all this chaos. But if you’re not a single parent, try to envision yourself in this situation. So if you’re a parent with a partner, imagine that your other half isn’t there to provide another income or to help you watch the kids. And if you’re not a parent, imagine that you have to take care of yourself and also a few children.

At one point you had a partner to help you handle everything that happened with all the kids – but now it’s just you. It’s pretty overwhelming right? Luckily your children understand the situation, but that doesn’t make life any easier. You try to sacrifice things for yourself and budget the best you can, but sometimes it means that you just don’t have it all together. Sometimes you won’t be able to buy their most desired toy to put a smile on their face on their birthday; or have a turkey on the table for Thanksgiving.

When you have a limited income, sometimes it means missing out on celebrating holidays. You might be able to make up for it a few days later but it doesn’t make it easier as a parent that you have to make your children wait until you get paid before they can get a birthday present. You know they’re not making a fuss because they don’t want you to feel bad, but they don’t realize that you already do.

Now you’re coming here for a food hamper, after trying to explain to your children that you’re struggling – without worrying them. You started by not checking off much, because you think there are people who need this service more. But then you’re touched when the staff try to encourage you to take more because programs like us are around to help people when they fall in these struggling circumstances.

You’re trying to stay strong because you hate when your kids see you cry. Also it would be weird to cry in front of a room full of strangers. However you can’t hold back when the volunteer finishes packing your hamper. Before coming here you had next to no food in your cupboards and fridge, but now you’re confronted with a bunch of possible meals. There’s a selection of anything from yogurt, to school snacks, to vegetables, to meat, and a wide variety of other products.

As you can see it’s pretty evident that we’ve touched Ashley’s life in a significant way. However what she doesn’t realize is how she’s touched the lives of the people who work at our program. Her tears of joy show the volunteers that though each task is small, it has an irreplaceable impact on a person’s life. This single mom has come to us with no idea what to expect, and leaves us without enough words to thank us for all we’ve done.

From crisis to stability – World Food Day

October 14, 2011

Hunger has been a constant of human history.  There have always been many who are without the basic necessity of life: food.  On October 16th it is World Food Day and people around the world will be taking some time out of their day to reflect on the many who go without and take action to raise awareness and to help them.

Here in Canada, there are many who go without food.  In our own community, we meet many of them every day here at the House of Friendship.  Recently, we have shared the stories of some of the people who turn to us each day, and encouraged you to put yourself in their shoes a little. You’ve met Trevor, Sara, Taylor, Ron and Andrew.  Keep them in your mind this Sunday, and consider some of these easy things to do to make a difference:

First off,  stay Informed:  There is a lot on this blog on the links we have on our main page.  You can also visit our friends at, watch their videos on youtube and browse their annual Hunger Count reports.  To get a better understanding of what hunger looks like globally, visit .

You can donate: Text HUNGER to 30333 to make a $5 donation to Food Banks Canada via your mobile device.  This will help organizations across the country that work with Food Banks Canada and their provincial partners.  We depend on the hard work they do on a national level to help large donations of food come to Waterloo Region.

You can facebook: Donate your status to Food Banks Canada with the messaging, “On World Food Day, I’m donating my status to @FoodBanksCanada.  Join me and do the same”.  Go to Food Banks Canada’s facebook page for more information.

You can Tweet: Find out what others are saying around World Food Day and join the conversation to learn more @foodbankscanada and you can tweet at the House of Friendship @HOFKW and let us know what you’re doing on World Food Day to help those in need.

It takes everyone to make a difference, so please, take part and help us to say goodbye to hunger.

Volunteer Spotlight: Carola

October 12, 2011

Carola has been volunteering at the Emergency Food Hamper Program for almost 15 years, giving almost 4000 hours of her time.  In the past year alone, she has volunteered 180 hours!  Carola’s gift of time and energy has not gone unnoticed.  It was a joy to have the opportunity to get to know Carola a little bit better.

How did you hear about House of Friendship?

“It’s a funny thing really.  When I first moved into this neighbourhood, I saw people walking with boxes of food, and I naturally got curious.  Where is all this food coming from?  I decided to find out for myself by paying a visit to the EFHP.  I applied to become a volunteer that day, and I have been here ever since!”

What do you enjoy about volunteering at the EFHP?

“I really look forward to spending time with the people that have become like family to me.  I also like that I am able to get out and do something in the community.”

What’s your favourite job at our program?

“My favourite job here is sorting and folding the donated clothing.  We get just about anything!  I also used to really enjoy going through the toys.  That gave me a chance to play with toys that I never had when I was growing up.”

How has volunteering impacted your life?

“The House of Friendship helped us when we first came to Canada from Germany 54 years ago.  I wanted to give back for all that the House of Friendship did for my family.”

Where did you used to work?

“I used to work at the Red Cross for many years doing home care visits.  I also have worked in the kitchen at the Alpine Club.”

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

“I love to be in the kitchen, whether it be cooking or baking, I love it all.  My favourite recipe to make is a black forest torte, which is a very rich, chocolaty dessert.  I also enjoy sewing, knitting and crocheting.  In my ‘spare’ time, I like to work on crossword puzzles and work in my garden.  I also love any time that I get to spend with my three children and three grandchildren.”

Carola was kind enough to share her Black Forest Torte with us, enjoy! 

She promised that she would make this dessert for the volunteers and staff at the EFHP when she reaches her 15 year anniversary of volunteering here!  We won’t forget that promise!  Thanks for all the time that you have contributed to the Emergency Food Hamper Program!   

There’s something missing

October 4, 2011

Every time you go to the grocery store there is an abundance of possibilities that you can take home. But unfortunately for over 20 000 people throughout the year their grocery trips are limited, because they’re accessing a food bank.

Food banks generally operate almost exclusively on donations – donations of time, money and food. As a result, it’s not uncommon for programs such as ours to experience a few weeks or months without certain food items such as canned soup, cereal, rice, peanut butter, macaroni and cheese, canned meat, or canned beans. At the moment, three very significant products are on the top ten lists of most needed food donations. Any idea what they are? If not, click here to find the answer.

Unfortunately three of our four protein products are on the top of the list: canned meat and fish, peanut butter, and canned beans. This has dramatic implications on the overall nutrition of our hamper; and also how many meals patrons can make out of the food we have to offer. You may remember how important food items like canned meat are to our patrons; but if not click here.

Luckily the Food Bank of Waterloo Region has been getting in higher amounts of frozen meat products. This means that our program has been able to slightly increase our quotas since the beginning of August. Here’s an idea of how our quotas have changed:

Family Size

Previous Meat Quotas

Current Meat Quotas

One person

500 g

750 g

Two people

1 kg

1.5 kg

Three people

1.5 kg

2 kg

Four people

2 kg

2.5 kg

Though it’s a minimal amount, it has an impressive impact. For example single people generally got one choice of meat such as a bag of sausages or a few chicken breasts in the past. Now a single person meat pre-pack will include two choices of meat products or a larger chunk of meat. But let’s look at the nutritional implications of raising our meat quotas:

Family Size

Increases of servings

One person

2 servings (1 day)

Two people

4 servings (1 day)

Three people

4 servings (almost 1 day)

Four people

4 servings (half a day)

To read more about meat and alternative nutrition, please visit Canada’s Food Guide.

For many people more frozen meat in their food hamper is a welcome change! One of the things that we learned through the work of Jesse and Leah, our two summer students, is that many patrons would purchase more meat or seafood products if they had more money available. However, because of the increasing costs of fresh or frozen meat products, many individuals often use lentils or canned meat as the best alternative to still get protein in their diet.

But with our supplies running out and many people not having the flexibility in their budget to buy a can of beans, a jar of peanut butter, or a can of meat, what do they do? Sadly it often means that many people will be without that food group in their diet for a few days.

Going without canned beans or canned meat and fish has a smaller nutritional impact on our hampers, but it does interfere with meal planning. Now instead of many people being able to throw one of these choices into a casserole, they’re left scrambling to find another alternative to get meat in their diet and complete their meal. Both a can of beans and a can of meat or fish contain approximately a full days worth of meat nutrition for a single person. It’s easy to see how quickly the nutrition of a hamper can diminish without these necessary staples.

Not having peanut butter available also decreases a hampers ability to provide a good level of nutrition for meat and alternatives. It takes two tablespoons of peanut butter to provide one serving of meat and alternatives. For a single person who likely needs approximately two servings of meat for the entire day, a 500 gram jar provides about seven days worth of protein. Larger families typically receive a one kilogram jar of peanut butter. To break this down it means that two person hampers lose approximately seven days of protein; three person hampers lose approximately four and a half days of protein, and four person hampers miss out on approximately three days of protein. Without this staple food, many people are left without anything to eat on a sandwich for lunch or to spread on some celery for an afternoon snack. Click here to read about the significance of peanut butter to our patrons.

What do you eat for lunch each day?  Imagine opening your bag lunch and only having two slices of bread with some mustard and lettuce between them.

You can change this though! Please keep these food items, and any other that you typically enjoy in mind during the fall food drive. Each donation makes a meal and brightens someone’s day – sometimes more than you can imagine. Whether it’s a box of cereal or crackers, a can of pasta sauce, or a drinking box it’ll make someone’s life one measure easier. Each food item they receive is  one step closer to a healthier diet, or one less explanation to a child for why it’s not on their dinner plate. And as our recent blogs show, not having food is only one of the many situations that our patrons are encountering throughout their day.

Living in a teeter totter

October 3, 2011

Life is full of ups and downs. When things are looking up, it’s great. But when they fall down, the challenges can sometimes be too much to bear. It’s especially difficult when you’re thrown into a pattern of traumatic and stressful events. It’s a real test of will and strength, and often very easy to fall in a position of needing help. Overcoming these falls can be harder than you’d ever imagine. Once the bills pile up it’s hard to know if you’ll ever get caught up.

Balancing between paying the rent and buying groceries is hard. I haven’t been able to keep a steady employment record so I never should have tried to afford an apartment on my own. Rent is really expensive! I’ll probably have to move into a rooming house. I’ve done that before. It wasn’t so bad – but it wasn’t great either. But it’s better than Mary’s place or some other shelter. I just like having a space to call my own…I use to own a house with my husband. Well ex-husband. After three stillbirths our marriage dissolved. We had a lot of problems and I never really got over being an alcoholic; but we did manage to have one child survive. And after many years I’ve decided not to drink. I want to be a good role model for my son, Trevor. He’s a miracle! Trevor was two pounds when he was born nine weeks premature. He went three weeks with no amniotic fluid. My water broke and then I delivered three weeks later. Go ask any nurse and see if that’s possible…Unfortunately I haven’t seen a lot of my son though. Around the time that my husband divorced me I had a breakdown. So Trevor lived with his father while I spent some time in a psychiatric hospital. I’ve been in and out of those places; trying to take care of my son whenever I could. But Trevor doesn’t really want to spend a lot of time with me. I’m not sure I want to see much of him either. At the age of seven he started abusing me just like his father did…But he’s my son and I love him. I’m trying to be a part of his life; but it’s hard. He’s in trouble with the law. So now that I’m out of the hospital, it’s likely he’ll be going to jail. It seems like he’s always in trouble – and I’ve told him I won’t give him the money to help out. Normally I would. I’m the type of person who will give you whatever you need if I have it. If you came to my door needing bread, you’d have half a loaf if I had it. My mother always raised me to share and help others. We were raised with the values of the church and to acknowledge something bigger than you or I. I’ve always believed that God will send someone to help whenever needed.

Think of this as your story. Take a second to reflect how you’d feel in this situation if Trevor was your son.  What if you were Trevor?

While your son is pushing you away, you’re trying to form a relationship with him. You know he doesn’t care what you have to say or share your values; but you want to be a part of his life. Actually you need him to be a part of your life because family support and love is often what separates you between experiencing another mental breakdown or not.

Yes he’s frustrating you because he’s making all the wrong decisions in your eyes, but you can’t stop dwelling on the fact that he’s family and you love him. But how much longer can you watch him make these decisions? You know his bank account is running low because few people will hire someone with a criminal record. So what will you do when he doesn’t have the money for his court fines or lawyers fees? Although you want to help, unfortunately you’re financial situation isn’t much better than his. You continually struggle to meet your basic needs such as rent, utilities and groceries. But at least you’re willing to access various programs for supports; Trevor refuses to talk to strangers about what’s going on in his life because he feels they wouldn’t understand.

At least he’ll talk to you though. Well it’s more that he just stops by when he needs something. You think he may be abusing your good nature, but you can’t turn him away. You’ve tried sending him back to his father but he refuses to tell him anything. You suspect it’s probably because he doesn’t want to suffer the same physical and emotional abuse that he knows you went through. His father has the money to help him, but is it worth the abuse that you’ll both endure? Your ex-husband continually blames you for all the problems Trevor has.

But no one is to blame here. Unfortunately your life has been filled with a what feels like 10 life times of hardship that have been almost impossible to overcome. Each day is filled with a new challenge and sometimes it’s hard to catch up.

A common sentiment from our first time volunteers is how being here for a while reminds you of all the things you should be thankful for.  This post is the last of a short series of stories from some of the many people we serve.  They are the result of a lot of the hard work that our two summer students Leah and Jessie did over the summer trying to connect with people and get more of their story.

Though each story is complex and different in its own unique way, each shares the same basic theme: no money, no food, and no other option. Fortunately House of Friendship is available to provide a limited amount of support, but it’s often not enough. Each day the patrons of our program are facing more problems than just not having enough food. Turning to food banks is just one of the few options for relief in many individuals’ lives. By accessing a food hamper they’ll have a few moments of peace before needing to worry about having enough food again. Maybe then they’ll have the time to focus on one of the many other struggles and challenges they’re facing in their lives.

What we hope you take away from each of these stories is a little spark of empathy and a desire to make at least a small change for the better in our community.  Consider volunteering, donating, or talking to people and politicians in the upcoming provincial election on October 6th.

Guest Blog: Let’s vote for a poverty free Ontario

October 3, 2011

My name is Michael Hackbush and I have the great privilege to work for House of Friendship as Chaplaincy Director. The privileges are many but one in particular is to invite people to love and care for their neighbours by getting to know House of Friendship better. By extension, getting to know House of Friendship is getting to know the wonderful people with whom we have the privilege to serve.

Reading the posts on this blog is indeed eye opening and heart rending.While I find here incredible resilience of the human spirit, one cannot help but ask: “Why do we have such disparity between those of wealth and those without? Why such a gap, in such a wealthy nation as Canada, in a province that is by and far the engine of the nation’s economy?”

As this is election time, and as one who is passionate about these concerns and the many others shared through this blog I need to ask, why are these questions not being reflected in the platforms of the parties seeking our vote? Fortunately I’m not alone.

There are a couple of organizations working to keep these questions before the public and candidates leading up to Ontario’s election on October 6th. Perhaps you’ve see the black and white lawn signs in your neighbourhood that read, “Let’s Vote for a Poverty Free ONTARIO”?

Poverty Free Ontario(PFO) is a campaign of the Social Planning Network of Ontario and is fully endorsed and supported by the similar campaign Faith to End Poverty

Both of these campaigns seek to uncover what is known as ‘deep poverty’, that is, the policies and processes that prevent people from earning real incomes or finding meaningful work with decent pay. I invite you to get to know some of the issues and policies that effect person’s with low incomes. Please visit:

The Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition (ISARC) is an interfaith coalition that for 25 years has heard our neighbours’ voices and addresses Members of Provincial Parliament in advocating for change, most recently with the publication Persistent Poverty: Voices from the Margins. In a collaborative effort ISARC is working with Poverty Free Ontario in promoting the conversation. For communities of faith please visit:

In 2009 all parties in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario (Queen’s Park) voted unanimously for the poverty reduction act. This law in Ontario states that successive governments review and act toward reducing child poverty by 25% in 5 years. It sets out specific targets and timelines. Yet as a public we have heard little to nothing in this regard. It is an issue falling below the radar of many.

I invite you and those whom you know and serve to help in keeping poverty reduction, or better yet, poverty eradication on the agenda of our communities and candidates. Let’s keep the conversation alive. And on Thursday, October 6th, don’t forget to vote for a poverty free Ontario.