Archive for May, 2012

One wrong turn

May 31, 2012

image via Flickr

It’s amazing how quickly your life can turn from good to bad. One second you have it all together; and the next you’re scrambling to make ends meet. Life is full of tricky twists and turns, and sometimes there’s not much keeping you away from needing a program like ours.

Take Randy for example. Randy often made that extra step at the grocery store and each week dropped off a few extra items into the food bank donation bin. Today, he needs to go to one for the first time.

This summer started off like a dream. I had great friends, a house, and got a great job. I’ve been working construction, when there’s enough work to do. Since I just started I’m the first one to get a day off when a job is held up or there’s not enough work to pass along. But it’s been okay because the long hours on some of the other days have helped me make enough to cover all my bills. I wasn’t a millionaire but things were comfortable….Boy I miss those days! Now I’m constantly on the phone with car repair facilities, my insurance company, doctors and physiotherapists. This is all because of a car accident that happened one day after work. I don’t remember everything because it all happened so fast. And I couldn’t believe how quickly I ran through the little savings I had… it didn’t take long before I needed a food bank.

It may sound like a cliché, but you never know how many bad turns, days or weeks you are away from having to come to a food bank. If you suddenly lost your job, how long would your savings last? What could you sell or quickly pawn to cover your bills? How long could you keep on doing that?

With limited insurance coverage your monthly bills already exceeding your savings – what do you do? Where do you turn? Who would you rely on to get you through this difficult time? How quickly would you be able to do something like sell your house? And then what? How do you start over again?  What happens to your retirement plans?

For Randy all of this uncertainty is because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s hopeful but he can only hold onto hope for so long. What would keep you strong enough to make it through this uncertain time?

Many people like Randy never realize how many missed pay cheques away they are from needing to swallow their pride and turn to our volunteers for help. When you’re working and things are going well you rarely imagine what it would take to put you too far back. Often all it takes is one unexpected turn of event to set people back on the bills for a few weeks, months, or sometimes years. When you’re ahead it’s easy to keep going, but when you fall behind it’s a hard climb back up to regain that feeling that you are in control of your life again.

Allow me to introduce myself…

May 17, 2012

Hi everyone, my name is Erin and I’m the new intake worker here at the House of Friendship’s Emergency Food Hamper program. Let me introduce myself. I just graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University, and after taking five years to complete my degree I’m happy to be out of an academic setting. I’m an avid community gardener, and I’m interested in food security issues in Waterloo Region, Ontario, and beyond. I’m also interested in the politics of food security; how decisions made in government affect people’s everyday lives, and how they affect access to such a fundamental necessity as food.

I’d like to share some of my impressions after one week at the Emergency Food Hamper program. First of all, I’m overwhelmed by the friendly atmosphere created by staff and volunteers at the House of Friendship. So far I’ve enjoyed every day at work, and I’ve felt welcomed onto the team. It’s humbling to be working with some volunteers who have been here for five years, or over a decade. I knew coming into the position that the Food Hamper program was volunteer-based, but I continue to be surprised by the sheer volume of people that donate their time on a regular basis. I can see why they do it too, the people here are great to be around.

I’m also happy to be lucky enough to work for a program that is in line with my values, and whose philosophy I can firmly support. Through my training it has been repeatedly affirmed that the Emergency Food Hamper program is based on trust; if people come in to receive food, we trust that they need the food. There are no extensive background checks and we limit the amount of personal questions people must answer. When people living on low income seek aid—in the form of food or other resources—the process is often accompanied by feelings of shame or low self worth. This program tries to make the experience one of respect, and limit the stigma attached to seeking food aid.

I’m looking forward to continuing to share my experiences on this blog as I learn more about the program and about local food issues. I know the next few months especially are going to be a learning experience, and I’m anticipating a fulfilling journey. If you come into the program as a volunteer, donator of goods, or a consumer, I look forward to meeting you!

Wishing it was just a dream

May 10, 2012

From time-to-time my coworkers and I become a listening ear for someone in a crisis. Sometimes we can direct people to other resources for help; but sometimes people just need someone to vent to. This is exactly the case for Jessica. Jessica is coming for a food hamper after experiencing a situation that she never imagined being faced with.

When I woke up today and looked around my house I pinched myself. This had to be a bad dream that I’d wake up from. I even tried going back to bed to convince myself that this couldn’t be real. My partner left a note saying it was over. And then I noticed that all the food in our fridge and cupboards, and a few other things were gone. How could he just leave me like this? And why did he take everything? We can’t live without food. Sometime in the middle of the night he left and took everything with him. Sure I have a full-time job but we live pay cheque to pay cheque – where am I going to get the money to buy everything back that he’s taken? He didn’t have a steady job but he kicked in money towards the bills here and there, which was always enough to get us by. Now I’ll probably have to cancel my internet and home phone because I doubt I’ll be able to afford them anymore. And I’m already thinking about the possibility of moving to something cheaper. I’ve got a million thoughts going through my mind that I’m not even sure where to start!

Coming here was a step in the right direction. Though it definitely wasn’t an easy choice, we can give her some options. Wait – let me rephrase that: give you more options, because you’re not dreaming either – this is your story.

The first thing you check is your bank account. You remember giving him your debit card to get groceries a few days ago when you were too tired to go after work. Did he give you the card back? Did he take out any money on top of the cost of all the groceries? You never thought to worry about anything like that because you felt like the relationship was going well. Unfortunately you were in for a surprise.

You waited so long to move in together because you wanted to know that you could both afford an apartment together and that he was a good fit for your kids. For a few months it was a great decision but now you’re kids are wondering where all the stuff went and when they’ll see him again.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Like Jessica, I’m sure your mind would be racing a mile a minute through all these thoughts. You can start by referrals through friends and families to get connected to immediate supports such as food banks. Then from there you’ll hope they can refer you to social service agencies or thrift stores that can help you obtain all the items that your ex took from you. And each day you go through this difficult transition I’m sure you’d continue hoping that this is still a bad dream that you’ll eventually wake up from. Luckily for you, this situation will end when you close this blog, but Jessica continues to stay awake through these struggles.