Archive for November, 2011

Volunteer Spotlight: Brian

November 23, 2011

I asked Brian if I could do a volunteer spotlight on him, and little did I know that he would prepare his own set of notes for our chat!  Brian has been volunteering at the EFHP for over 4 years now, devoting 670 hours to the program thus far.  In this year alone, he has volunteered over 150 hours!  Here’s what Brian had to say:

How did you hear about House of Friendship?

“When I was in a difficult situation, I stayed at one of House of Friendship’s programs for a few days.  That is where I heard about the Emergency Food Hamper Program, and that they needed volunteers to help in the warehouse.  I have been coming on a weekly basis ever since.”

 What do you enjoy about volunteering at the EFHP?

“I enjoy the people that I get to interact with here.  I like that I am able to get out of the apartment, and that I am doing something meaningful.  It gives me a sense of satisfaction knowing that what I am doing is helping others.”

 What’s your favourite job at our program?

“I enjoy a lot of jobs here.  My specialty seems to be bagging the bulk rice.  I used to work in the cooler, but I prefer working with the rice.”

 How has volunteering impacted your life?

“Volunteering has made me feel more secure within myself.  It is a nice outlet for me.  It keeps me busy doing things that I have grown to love doing.  I have the opportunity to meet lots of different people who are coming from all walks of life to volunteer here.”

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

“I used to volunteer with the Kinsmen Club, usually helping to run the charity bingo that the club would put on.”

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

“Over the past few years, I have really gotten into music again.  I have developed a habit of playing my acoustic guitar on a daily basis.  When my friends come to visit, we always seem to make time to jam together.  I have an eclectic taste in music, and enjoy the variety that I hear on CBC Radio 2.  I do a lot of walking.  I also visit the Kitchener Public Library on almost daily to read the newspaper and do some daydreaming.”

Thanks Brian for taking a moment to share with us about what has kept you coming back here week after week!  Your lively personality keeps us entertained with each story that you tell.  You really keep us on our toes! 

A big move

November 21, 2011

Some of us know the struggles and challenges that are associated with moving to a new province or city, but can you imagine how much harder it would be to move to a different country? Here you’d be surrounded by a new place where you potentially know only a handful of people, and need to find a place to live and a source of income. It’s no easy task; so often many social service agencies refer new Canadians to our program to help them transition and settle into their new life in Canada. Sometimes after a few hampers they’re able to move on and support themselves; but sometimes they find themselves in a more challenging position than when they first arrived. To give you an idea of this, here’s the story of Sophia:

I remember going to Emergency Food Hampers as a child, but I never really knew or understood what it was. I remember coming with my siblings and we would enter this “store” and fight over all the toys and stuff in the lobby. We thought it was so cool that you didn’t have to pay for anything…My parents came to Canada a long time ago, but never used House of Friendship until they started having kids. It was just the two of them, but quickly our family became seven people. As our family grew I remember my dad began staying at home. My mom said he wasn’t able to work anymore so we would receive some help from disability benefits. My parents told us that our family wouldn’t have a lot of money, but we’d always find a way to work through it. I never remember my parents being stressed or feeling that our family was poor. My mom was the only one working and providing for the family. With only a high school diploma, my mom could not find a good paying job that would adequately support a family of seven. She worked night shifts, often with over-time. But I knew it wasn’t enough sometimes; otherwise there was no reason for us to come to this program. 

Sophia’s story is not unique. Often many patrons bring their children with them to get a food hamper because they can’t afford or don’t know anyone to watch their children. Also this is one of the few chances that these parents can say “yes” to their children when they ask if they’re allowed to take that toy or pair of shorts home.

Think back about your own childhood.  The world was a pretty complicated place and you always had a lot of questions for your parents.  How would you ask them about the food bank?  Would you have been able to understand how hard it is to ask strangers for help?

If you were able to, would you be able to explain to your 8-year-old self what it’s like to struggle to balance the household finances and do the things you feel most “normal” families do, like visit the restaurants your school mates do, go on trips, and have the right clothes to fit in?

Many people who turn to us are working one way or another to make ends meet.  Today, this often means the night shift, temp work and a handful of very part-time jobs.  How do you handle that fluctuation and unexpected circumstances? It’s hard to save and plan ahead for the future because some of the over-time pay money always goes to paying down the hydro or water bill, car insurance, or dentist.

At times you get ahead but then quickly things change where you have almost no hours at work again and the bills keep coming. Work is unpredictable, but your education limits your options on where you can work, and your English is not the greatest to write a resume to even apply for another job. But if you did apply elsewhere and got a job, your family can’t wait until any new medical benefits kick in after a few months.

Luckily Sophia’s family has medical benefits. Many people accessing our program work at part-time or temporary employment positions and don’t get the opportunity to receive any health benefits. However, saving on this expense still doesn’t put them in a better situation.

Many families scrape by most months, so it’s unlikely that there will be any savings for retirement or college funds for any of the children they may have. If they work hard and get the grades some of them may be able to earn scholarships to help pay for the increasing costs; or some may get bank loans or OSAP  in order to secure a job that may deliver better future.

In the mean time, we will be here to help when things get tough.

A new perspective on food waste

November 16, 2011

Have you ever come home with something from the grocery store full of good intentions and great ideas for how to use it?  Have you ever lost track of it and found a month and a half later behind a container of leftovers and been forced to throw it out?  I think everyone experiences this from time to time. For most of us this isn’t a big deal; but when you look at some of the impacts that food waste has, you begin to see that it’s a much bigger deal than you’d think once it’s all added up. (more…)

A New Member of the (House of Friendship) Family

November 14, 2011

My name is Sarah Warren, and I am the new Social Service Intern with House of Friendship for the 2011/2012 year. I’m following in the footsteps of Allison and Emily, the previous interns who have posted here.  I started working with House of Friendship at the beginning of September and, 2 months in, I am loving it! I’m so excited and feel so privileged to be a part of extending a helping hand to those in need and seeing justice come in our community. As my first post on this blog, I wanted to introduce myself a bit, and perhaps provide a snapshot of what has led me to this point. (more…)

United, we are stronger

November 14, 2011

You may have recently read about the United Way and its struggles to reach its campaign target this year. What does this mean for our community?

Through the House of Friendship (HOF), United Way helps thousands of people in our community living on low-income, people just like you and me.  Each year, HOF programs:  Emergency Food Hampers, the Charles Street Men’s Hostel, Live and Learn and four community centres benefit from the United Way funding thanks to the  many gifts and pledges that community members make through their workplace campaigns and individual donations. In short, thanks to United Way our community has a much stronger social safety net, which is important, especially through tough times like these.

House of Friendship staff support United Way; to date we have pledged $9,400 to HOF’s 2011 United Way Workplace Campaign.

Why do we support United Way?

At a recent internal United Way Workplace campaign event we asked this question and this is what staff had to say:

“I remember”

“I see the impact in the work I do every day”

We remember the people we serve, we remember the people who need a hand up.

“I’ve received”

Like everyone in this community, many of us have had difficult times that we have had to struggle through.  We remember what it’s like, and why the work we do is important.

“I can”

“I care”

“I have been given so much”

At the moment, we have the resources to share, we know it is important and because…

“It is love”

“It’s not mine to keep” and “I feel compelled to be inclusive”

Many of us do the work we do because we feel a strong sense of duty to make the world a better, more welcoming place, and to share our love for our neighbours.

The people we serve feel similarly.

It may surprise you to know that throughout the programs that receive funding from United Way program participants regularly volunteer.  As one program participant and volunteer at the Charles Street Men’s Hostel said during the recent United Way Day of Caring, “I’m volunteering to give back.”

And isn’t that what community is about?  Giving. Receiving. Sharing in the good times. Supporting each other through the tough times.

The United Way has shared its concerns and hopes for this year’s campaign.  As a community and individuals we have a choice about how we respond.  House of Friendship staff have chosen to step up. Join us.

Think about YOUR reason for giving and support United Way and our community. We all benefit.

The ART of Caring

November 12, 2011

On Friday evening local art show & sale, BOX11, hosted a Curator’s Reception.  This year, the Guest Curator is Jim Erb, who also Chairs the Kitchener Conestoga Rotary Club’s annual Turkey Drive in support of House of Friendship’s Christmas Hamper program.  

Like HOF’s year-round Emergency Food Hamper program, Christmas Hampers aims to share the gift of food with families in need, but this program is specifically for December when holiday lay-offs and the pressures and expectations of the season can break an already stretched budget.

The Turkey Drive is the official Charity Partner of BOX11.  A portion of the proceeds from art sales will help bring the gift of food to families across our community.  As the Guest Curator, Jim had the opportunity to share some comments. 

Through my work and community involvement I attend a fair number of events and hear probably far too many speeches, but Jim’s words caught my attention.  In the Rumpel Felt Factory amidst the art, chatter and food, Jim stood in front of us all and  reminded us:

This weekend is also about acknowledging that there are too many people in our community who will probably never be invited to a reception such as this. For many of us, tonight begins the “season of Christmas parties”.  For many others in our community, there will be no invitation to a multitude of Christmas parties.  Over the weekend, the generosity and resources of people like you and me will be able to purchase this beautiful artwork for our homes and offices. For many in our community, the little money they have will not be for art, but for basic food for their family.

Food for thougt no doubt for the coming Holidays.

Let’s talk about something….

November 11, 2011

We talk a lot about food, and often the topic of the social determinants of health comes up (here, here, and here).  Recently, a link to a nice video developed by the health unit in Sudbury showed up in my inbox.  It helps explain the basics of the social determinants of health and I’m here to share it with you today:

Is food a social determinant of health?  Yes.  An important one.  Did you ever think that food banks are wrapped up in the business of health care?  In a way they are.  You can think of us like paramedics if you’re feeling charitable.  We rush to the scene of crisis, deliver assistance and then move on.  Or perhaps, you can just think of us as good Samaritans who happen on a disaster.  We help as best we can and then maybe the situation improves, maybe it doesn’t.

But to extend the comparison a little further, are we doing enough about the cause of the disaster?  Sure, a little help gets people on their feet.  But who keeps knocking them down?  And what is the long-term consequence of getting pushed down by things like poverty, unemployment, bad housing, limited choices, and bad or no food?

Watch the video, give it some thought and talk to someone you know about it.  Talk to the people you’ve voted for, and who you’re going to vote for next election time.  It’s important for people like Ronald, Andrew, Maria and all the people that we serve.

Volunteer Spotlight: Paul

November 9, 2011

Paul has been faithfully volunteering at the Emergency Food Hamper Program twice a week for over ten years now.  Over these years, he has volunteered over 1600 hours, with 170 of those hours being in 2011 alone.

How did you hear about House of Friendship?

“I can’t even remember.  It feels like I have always been coming here.”

What do you enjoy about volunteering at the EFHP?

“I enjoy coming in to see my friends that I have made here.  I especially like to see my buddies, Rupert and Salvador.”

 What’s your favourite job at our program?

“I love bagging the potatoes.  That is what I am used to doing.  Sometimes I do other jobs here, like stocking the shelves, but bagging potatoes is my favourite job.

How has volunteering impacted your life?

“I like volunteering because it gives me something to do.  It gets me out and about.”

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

“I like to watch baseball.  My favourite baseball team is the Toronto Blue Jays.  I love to listen to heavy metal, like Alice Cooper, KISS and ACDC.  I also enjoy bowling and visiting with friends.”

Thanks Paul for letting me visit with you while you bagged all those potatoes!  We really appreciate the commitment that you have made to the EFHP!

Can you ever have too much rice?

November 7, 2011

Feed a dream

Before we know it the sky will fill with lovely snow flakes and the days will become colder here in Ontario. While there are many opportunities to get outside in the winter and stay fit, many people tend to spend a little more time indoors.  So what can you do, while your inside, staying warm and counting the days until it’s spring time?

Well I’m here to tell you about a fun and educational way to spend some of your spare time – especially if your household includes some school age children who want to test and expand their knowledge. To see what I’m talking about, click here.  It’s an online game with a twist.  Instead of getting points and being able to boast about your high score, each correct answer makes a little difference to someone somewhere in the world, ten grains of rice at a time.

Isn’t this great? For each correct answer you make to questions in a wide variety of subjects a little bit of rice will be donated to the World Food Program. It may seem like such a small amount but it all adds up and it’s free!  This is all thanks to the group who created FreeRice, a non-profit website now run by the United Nations World Food Programme.

But how can a non-profit website buy enough rice to donate 10 grains for each question you answer right? All the rice that you win through the game is paid for by sponsors whose advertisement banners will appear at the bottom of the screen when you enter a question correctly. Each of these sponsors also supports the goals of promoting learning or free education for everyone, and reducing hunger throughout the world.

FreeRice tries to provide more rice to countries that typically include this as a staple item in their diet. On average these countries typically receive approximately 400 grams of rice person, per day (for families, including children and adults). Generally the goal of each donation is to provide people with two meals, with the assumption they’ll also include other local ingredients, in the aim to achieve 2100 kilocalories of daily nutrition. 

By answering 600 questions correctly you donate one serving (according to Canada’s Food Guide) of a ½ cup of rice to someone in need. Although it seems like a lot of questions, you’ll rack of the number of grains you donate quickly!

If you are a part of a service club, or church, or have a circle of friends who like to do things together, you can all register as a group and compete with other groups and track the total amount of donations you have generated.

“Making the world a better place starts with food. Food fuels education. Food fuels free choice. Food fuels economic independence. Food fuels peace.” (Source)

So by playing the game you are helping do something about hunger in the world, but what about hunger in our community?  Currently rice is the fourth most needed food donation at the Food Bank of Waterloo Region. So please consider spending a few minutes to answer a couple of questions and the next time you are at the grocery store think of your neighbours in need and make a donation to the bin by the check out. (Click here to read one of our previous blog posts on what our patrons think about rice).

And in the end think of all the people who will be able to enjoy a meal or rice because of your efforts to test your knowledge.

BSW Guest Blog: Who do the food hampers help?

November 3, 2011

One day last week, late afternoon, a young girl and her daughter came in for a food hamper for herself and her family of three. Obviously uncomfortable, shifting her weight from foot to foot, constantly looking down, and speaking in whispers so others would not hear her. She was clearly upset with having to ask a stranger for food.

While the intake worker sensitively guided her through intake, I observed some striking similarities between my own circumstances in life and this humble young woman who was at her wits end.  She was the same age as my wife and her husband was the same age as me. She was short and had long, straight, black hair, similar to my wife. I couldn’t help but imagine what it would feel like if I was on the other side of the counter asking a stranger for food. A myriad of question flew through my head and continued long after I left for the day. Would I be able to bring myself to ask for the food? Why would I be unable to provide for my family? Could I handle having to ask for food on multiple occasions?

Hello, my name is Mike,  and I am a student at Renison University College at the University of Waterloo working towards a BSW degree. For the last five weeks, I have been helping out at House of Friendship’s Emergency Food Hamper Program (EFHP). Between attending classes at a new university and getting used to a new city, I have been very lucky to work with House of Friendship for my school practicum. At the Food Hamper Program, I have experienced a number of startling realities that most people do not see on a daily basis. Realities which many live with each day, and that revolve around food insecurity issues. Before explaining one of these experiences, a little background information about me is in order. (more…)