BSW Guest Blog: Who do the food hampers help?

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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.

Having been raised on a family farm, three hours northwest of the KW area, growing food for others and our animals has been in my blood for four generations now. After years of watching our produce leave the farm, I have always wondered…where does it all go? And then, like many others, I go back to my daily life and these thoughts are sadly forgotten.

Food is a necessity for human life to exist. All cope with this demand on a daily basis but far too many are unable to meet it. This year, the program has helped an average of 2,400+ households each month, a number that is gradually on the rise. When I first heard this, I was shocked. How can there be that many people, in a prosperous community like Kitchener Waterloo, that are in a state of emergency and lack enough food to feed themselves or their families?

Food security is an issue that all Canadians should think about especially when walking down one of the aisles of a well-stocked grocery store. Based on my farming background, my immediate family and I have never felt threatened by a lack of food in our cupboards. For me this dilemma has always been a distant concern, something that I understand happens on a daily basis but has never hit home in any sort of meaningful way. However, one experience at the Food Hamper Program has caused me to think about what life would be like if my family was running low on food or unable to eat.

I will always remember that moment, instead of helping a distant, faceless, stranger by dropping something into a bin at a grocery store, I could now put a face on one of them and to my shock that face was eerily similar to mine. In today’s economic uncertainty we are all a lot closer than we would like to admit to having to ask others for help. Losing a job or having to cope with the mental, physical, and monetary costs of a family illness could be the deciding factor between consistently having food to eat and having to ask others for that food.

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