Archive for April, 2012

HOF Family: 807 to 75

April 24, 2012

Today I’m full of a mixture of emotions for a variety of reasons which basically leaves me torn whether to be happy or sad. I’m sad that this will no longer see all of the familiar faces at Emergency Food Hampers (one a regular basis), talk to many people in need of food assistance, and do many other familiar tasks. Yet I’m also happy because people have shared so many kind words and wishes to encourage me on my new journey that will be starting soon. Yes after four incredible years with the food hamper program I’ll be saying farewell to this program and be welcomed by a new House of Friendship program: Charles Village.

I recently accepted a position as the Community Support Worker with Charles Village. I’m excited for many of the new things I’m about to learn, events I’ll plan, people I’ll soon get to know, and challenges I’ll be helping to resolve. However each time I think about this new and exciting journey, it brings me back to the memories I have of the first weeks and months here at food hampers.

When I started at food hampers I was overwhelmed with a new group of amazingly friendly volunteers each day, and a group of supportive staff to help me learn the various operations that happen within the building each day. I remember hearing people talk about doing 160 hampers and it being such a chaotic day of non-stop movement. Unfortunately now 160 feels like a standard or steady day now that we do with little to no issues, and days where we serve over 200 are manageably chaotic it seems.

Also when I first started I had no idea how little some people could live on and how creative so many people are forced to become to make their money stretch. In my span of responding to requests for food hampers I’ve heard more stories than I can share in a reasonable amount of space about struggles people face each day. Because of the transitions and experiences I’ve begun to discover how much there is to poverty and low-income and it’s opened my eyes to many struggles I didn’t even realize existed in the “small” Kitchener-Waterloo region. I feel fortunate that I was given the opportunity to learn about some of these things here.

But I’m not all smiles looking back on the changes in myself and the program over my time here. One of the reasons I’m probably saddest to leave is because I’ll be leaving behind a group of volunteers that have all touched my heart in various ways. Though each of them has shared nothing but positive and happy words, it doesn’t make it any easier to know that I won’t see many of them again. Everyone leaves a job saying they’ll be back to visit, but few people really do – but I’m hoping to be an exception to that statement though. Everyone here at food hampers has grown to become part of my extended family. While working here it’s never been uncommon for many of us to share various aspects of our lives together each time we pass each other in the warehouse or sit down for a break in the lunchroom. And this also goes for many of the staff as well! Plus there are a few patrons who visit our lobby for extra bread or to browse through the clothes on a somewhat regular basis that I’ve shared a few conversations with from time-to-time in between quiet times at the front desk or while cleaning at the end of the day. Each person has had an impact on me that I’ll never forget and helped make me a better person. And I’ll miss them all so much!

So thank you so much to everyone that I’ve encountered here! I’ve learned so much from each and every one of you that it’s hard for me to put into words how this experience has really changed my life. But most importantly I hope everyone knows that I’ll always remember you – whether you were a faithful blog reader, a student volunteering for a short bit as part of your school requirements, part of the “seasoned chicken club” of volunteers, staff or patrons! And hopefully you won’t forget me either!

A hamper is worth a thousand words

April 20, 2012

For us to try and explain in words all of the wonderful things that the volunteers at the Emergency Food Hamper Program do would be difficult.  Instead, we have compiled a set of pictures, both new and not-so new, of our volunteers in action!  The pictures will walk you through a typical day at 807 Guelph Street.

Let start with the morning.  Typically volunteers arrive any time after 8am ready to get to work.  The morning crew work together to sort, stock and bag large quantities of food that has been donated to our program.

Once the shelves have been stocked and the quotas set, we open the doors to the public.  At this time, we also welcome our hamper packers who will pack and distribute a large quantity of food to those are in need of food assistance.

While there is always work to be done at the Emergency Food Hamper Program, there is always time for FUN!

So this wraps up a day at the Emergency Food Hamper Program.  As you can see there is a lot of work that is done within the walls of 807 Guelph Street, but there is a lot of laughs shared amongst staff and volunteers to keep the spirits high!

Volunteer Spotlight: Kristina

April 20, 2012

Kristina has been volunteering here since April 2010, giving over 80 hours of her time.  During this time, Kristina has gone on a few great adventures to countries around the world, but we are always glad when she returns to volunteer with us!  Kristina always has a smile to share with the people that she is working with and the people that she is packing hampers for.  Here’s what she had to say about her experience volunteering at the Emergency Food Hamper Program:

How did you hear about House of Friendship?

I can remember my friend, Beth, telling me about how much she enjoyed volunteering with House of Friendship.  She asked me to come with her to check it out, and I have been coming ever since.

What do you enjoy about volunteering at the EFHP?

I think I enjoy the interactions that I am able to have with the other volunteers and the people that are coming in for food assistance.  It has been great to get to know some of the regular volunteers who I get to spend time with on a weekly basis.

What’s your favourite job at our program?

My favourite job is definitely packing the hampers.  I like seeing what is going into the food hampers each week, and also getting a chance to interact with the food hamper recipients.  It makes it all worthwhile.

How has volunteering impacted your life?

Volunteering has given me an area that I am able to give of myself, and to help others along the way. It has also made me feel  like I am being useful with my time.  This is also a practical way for me to help people in need in our community.

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

Currently I am not volunteering anywhere else because I am in the midst of a Developmental Services Worker program through Fanshawe College, and it requires me to complete work placements for the program.  I am also working a variety of shifts at the Elmira Association for Community Living, so that consumes quite a bit of my time!

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

I like to travel and to check out the music events and festivals happening in our area.  I also like to bike and hike, and to take day trips here and there.  I met my husband, Nitin, on a trip to India where he is from, and ever since he moved to Canada it has been great to go on adventures with him.

Thank you Kristina for sharing with us!  I am glad you decided to come with me three years ago to volunteer at the EFHP.  It has been great having you and Nitin volunteering with us!   

Being flexible

April 18, 2012

Hello!  I’m Matt G, the other Matt at the Food Hamper Program.  I have been working as the Emergency Food Hamper Program’s volunteer coordinator for the past three years.  One of the things I’ve learned most over the past few years is what it means to be flexible.  The Emergency Food Hamper Program is a unique place.  We are affected by so many varying factors such as how much food we will get in, when that food will arrive, and how many people will come in for emergency assistance.  We never know what will show up on our door step, and when.

807 Guelph Street is an ever-changing environment and the needs of our program are constantly changing.  For this reason, I am so grateful to the many volunteers who all seem to have this same characteristic of being flexible.

We have so many great volunteers who are able to adapt to any and every situation and who are willing to do whatever is most needed of them at a given moment.  They show up and ask us, “what do you need me to do now?”  As needs change, they are willing to change too.  They walk through our door with a lot of enthusiasm about doing whatever they can to make others feel maybe just a little bit better.  And they most assuredly do!  Sometimes the result of what we are doing at the Emergency Food Hamper Program gets lost in the day-to-day chaos that is our operations. It is easy to think of our work in terms of how many boxes of lettuce we need to move from one end of the warehouse to another, or how much yogurt we need to distribute to make space for the shipment of mushrooms that we know will show up the following morning.

The reality is, however, that many individuals and families are being helped each day, and this is a result of the willingness of an amazing crew of volunteers who are not so much concerned about what they are doing themselves, but what we are doing together.  Whether it is packing hampers, stocking shelves, sorting through mountains of donated clothing, or even sweeping the floor, all these things are very important and make it possible for us to continue to do what we are doing.

Volunteer Sherry works at making a dent in the bin full of potatoes

The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.  ~Oscar Wilde

Everybody can be great.  Because anybody can serve.  You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.  You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve…. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.  You only need a heart full of grace.  A soul generated by love.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Volunteer Spotlight: Martin

April 17, 2012

Martin has been volunteering at the Emergency Food Hamper Program (EFHP) for just over a year now, giving over 90 hours of his time to this food assistance program.  Martin is passionate about food, and this program seems to be a natural fit for him.  It was great to take a few moments to get to know Martin and what he does when he is not volunteering at the EFHP. 

How did you hear about House of Friendship?

I was looking to do some volunteering in K-W and I read about House of Friendship on the Volunteer Action Centre’s website.  I thought it would be a good fit for me since I currently work at the Loblaw’s distribution centre in Cambridge.

What do you enjoy about volunteering at the EFHP?

I find that since I began volunteering I get more value from myself.  I find myself utilizing my days a lot better.  I don’t work until 3:00 pm, so coming here in the morning keeps me active.  I find so much value from volunteering here; not only am I keeping busy with something to do, I am also able to help people who are in need of food assistance in our community.

What’s your favourite job at our program?

I enjoy stocking the shelves.  I like this because I can just come in and get started.  I don’t need to be told what to do; I just do it.  I find that everyone works together here as a team.  If I ever have any questions, I don’t hesitate to ask for clarification.

How has volunteering impacted your life?

I have found that having something to do with my mornings has given me more motivation to keep active when I am not working.  As a result of volunteering and working with food, I have become increasingly interested in gardening.  This summer, I am starting a garden with a friend of mine.  I have a tray of 204 seedlings that I will plant at the garden.  I am excited about this opportunity!

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

The gardening project that I have undertaken will be keeping me quite busy in the coming months.  I am also working with the Program Coordinator at the EFHP to start a compost program.  With this project, I am visiting a number of farms in the area to see how they are composting.

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

I enjoy being active and outdoors.  I like biking, skiing, gardening and camping.  I did a lot of camping last year at some of the GRCA parks, and I plan to explore some of the parks in the Halton Hills area this summer.  I am also looking into spending a week volunteering at a farm near Listowel.  I find that I learn the most from face-to-face interactions with people, and not from just doing an internet search.

It sounds like you have some exciting adventures ahead of you!  Thanks for your ongoing commitment to the Emergency Food Hamper Program.  We are looking forward to the design and implementation of the compost program here!   

Welcome Volunteer Week!

April 16, 2012

Too often we under-estimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.

 –Dr. Felice Leonardo Buscaglia

Volunteers working together to pack a food hamper

Each year organizations across Canada shine a spotlight on the people who are making a lasting difference in the lives of many.  Who might these extraordinary people be?  Volunteers!  Today marks the beginning of a weeklong national celebration of volunteerism.

According to the 2010 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating, 13.3 million Canadians volunteered their time through a group or organization, giving about 2.1 billion hours in 2010 alone.  The volunteers at House of Friendship’s Emergency Food Hamper program are certainly doing their part.

In 2011, about 200 volunteers gave over 12,500 hours to this program!  2012 will certainly be no exception with over 100 people volunteering in the past four months alone, accounting for 3600 hours.

Over the next few days we will be highlighting the people who work behind the scenes to make a program like ours possible.  While all of our volunteers have different reasons for volunteering at the EFHP, each and every one of them share the common goal of wanting to provide food assistance to those in need of food in our community.

We recognize not only the gift of time that volunteers give programs like ours, but we also acknowledge those extra touches that a volunteer can provide.  Sometimes when the lobby is packed with people waiting, it can be easy to forget about the individuals and families behind the numbers.  The volunteers here seem to be ever in tune with the fact that, while we may be quite busy, it can be those personal touches that can put a patron at ease or provide them with some comfort in what may be one of the most difficult seasons of their life.  So for this, and the many other things that volunteers bring to a program like ours, we salute the great works of volunteers here and beyond the walls of 807 Guelph Street.

From all of us at House of Friendship, we say ‘thank you’.

Embarking on a new path

April 12, 2012

People like to talk about it and read into the meaning of it, but divorce is something that many people will experience at one point in their lives. There are many reasons for it, sometimes things end amicably; sometimes it’s because of stress and debt, abuse, infidelity, substance abuse, or career related conflicts (Source). Regardless of the reasons, studies from the 2006 Canadian Census reveal that four in ten first marriages will end in divorce before 2035 (Source). Unfortunately today this is one of the current and stressful situations that Diane is facing.

After a few years of marriage we decided to start having kids. It was challenging at times, but also the most wonderful decision we made. I love my kids with all my heart…But sometime after that is when I think my husband and I started to grow apart. Well I know we started growing apart, because we’re just in the final stages of settling who gets what assets. It’s such a complicated procedure and we haven’t even started figuring out child support payments! I’m a single mom with three kids and a limited support network. After the divorce I needed to find a new place to live, so we moved to Kitchener a few weeks ago. I’m still working on finding a job and daycare but last week the last of my savings ran out. Luckily I found out about this program so we can have some food while I keep getting my resume out there. I never realized how hard it would be to start my life over from scratch.

Life as a single parent is going to be a big adjustment – and definitely one that you’ll never be able to prepare yourself for. (more…)

What’s for dinner?

April 5, 2012

Michael, our BSW student, recently found himself thinking about how people might use the food we share each day.   This is what he had to say:

Photo via flickr user Nena B.

On a weekly basis the Emergency Food Hamper program will normally hand out hundreds of food hampers. The program relies on donations that go up and down and thus has to adjust the amount each family receives based on what is available and how busy they expect to be. This constant change can make it difficult to tailor to each program participant’s food requests. Allergies, family food preferences and varying culinary skills often have to be balanced with what is on hand.  Putting myself in the shoes of someone receiving a food hamper for one person, and using my normal diet and food preferences, I wonder how long could I make a food hamper last?

Today, if I got a hamper, breaking it down into three meals a day, and stretching it over three days would be difficult to accomplish.

Let’s start at the beginning.  This is what I have to work with:

  • 1 frozen bag of 5 chicken nuggets
  • Some sausages
  • 5 lbs. of potatoes
  • 8 oatmeal cereal pouches
  • 1 can of mushroom soup
  • 1 can of uncooked vegetables
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 Kraft Dinner box
  • 1 small bag of raw mushrooms
  • 1 can of tuna
  • 1 fruit cup
  • 1 can of pork and beans
  • 1 stick bread
  • 1 box of shortbread cookies
  • 1 1.3 L bottle of Sunny D beverage
  • 1 500 g Egg Creation carton
  • 1 small bag of frozen vegetables
  • 2 100g cups of yogurt
  • 3-4 pepperettes
  • 1 680g Heluva Good sour cream dip

Now, on to breakfast.

Normally I enjoy a bowl of cereal after I wake up. There are instant oatmeal pouches in the hamper but no milk to pour on it. The 1.3 litre Sunny D bottle would be good for breakfast but would not last me longer than three or four meals. A breakfast staple for me would be a cup of coffee, something that is frequently requested but that we rarely have to give out. I like scrambled eggs so the 500 grams of Egg Creation, which is a carton of egg whites, along with the onion and mushrooms I received, would last me about two breakfasts. I would also consume one of the two yogurt cups.

Moving on to lunch I could try to eat my one box of Kraft Dinner or maybe warm up the can of soup. Hopefully, if I wasn’t very thirsty from the morning, some Sunny D will be left over. Seeing as I am not terribly handy in the kitchen, warming up soup or making Kraft Dinner is maxing out my current culinary skills. If I didn’t have an oven,these foods, along with the can of vegetables, would be almost pointless. Future lunches would probably involve having to eat a can of beans in sauce which is not a favourite of mine, along with a can of tuna. Good thing I have a reliable can opener!

Finally, supper time would involve my cooking the five or six chicken nuggets and maybe half of the sausages I received. The crusty stick bread would also be on my dinner menu since it’s already a little on the stale side, and I would round it out with steaming some of the five pounds of potatoes.

Examining what is left in my hamper what would I do if a friend dropped by for a unexpected visit?  I would offer him or her a pepperette or two and maybe some leftover sausage. Not exactly ideal stuff for entertaining casual visitors. Also, it wouldn’t last very long and I really need to save it for the next few days. How about putting out some uncooked potatoes, mushrooms, and sour cream dip? Again, not really ideal. In reality I would probably not offer them anything, as I would be too embarrassed to admit that I was having a food emergency. If my friend provided me with food the last time I visited them, it would be a very awkward time together.

So, I’ve made it a day.  Not many leftovers remain.  If I want to stretch it out for another 2 days I have to start making some big compromises. I would find it very challenging and stressful to limit myself to just three meals a day.  There is not a lot of room for snacks and I’ve polished off most of my hamper in just one day.  I would have to carefully portion out the leftovers for lunch and supper and likely have to scrape by on day three with some of the frozen vegetables, a sausage if I have one left and maybe some pepperettes.  Not really an inspiring menu and not great fuel for a full day of school or work.  And all of this is assuming that after a stressful day or two of trying to sort out what and how much I should eat, I wouldn’t snack on something one day and have little left for the following day or two.  It’s not something I really want to think about too much, yet it’s a daily struggle for more than a hundred families each day walking through our doors.