Archive for June, 2012

Living on low income with diabetes

June 28, 2012

Imagine you’re a single mother working a minimum wage job, and you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Minimum wage is certainly not a living wage, and the kinds of food that one can afford working $10.25 per hour are limited, especially if you’re supporting yourself and your children. The more nutritious food you can afford to purchase will typically go to feeding your kids first, and you will have whatever is left. You rely on food hampers to ease the financial burden of buying food, but you can’t rely on them being filled with the options you need to manage your diabetes. What’s more, the current situation and stress of living on low-income while raising a family takes precedence over getting support to manage living with diabetes. It’s nearly impossible to make specialist appointments because of your work schedule and your kids’ school schedule, and bus fare can add up quickly.

Something we are constantly thinking about at the Emergency Food Hamper program is how we can better accommodate people’s dietary needs, whether they are for medical, religious, or other reasons. One common disease that affects many of our patrons is type 2 diabetes. As you can see from the example at the beginning of this post, people’s income level very heavily determines their level of health (for more on the social determinants of health, read Matt’s blog post here). This is particularly true of diabetes; in 2010, Statistics Canada found that women living on low income were more likely than their more privileged counterparts to develop the disease (read a news article on this here, and the actual report from Statistics Canada here). On top of this, the complications of living with diabetes are much harder to manage if you are living on low income. Because we try to provide the best nutrition options for people who come in for hampers, we have to pay attention to how diabetes affects people living on low income and try to accommodate that as best we can.

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Lost for words

June 25, 2012

Michael, the BSW student who is with us twice a week, had this to say recently about an experience he had on intake:

One day, while working behind the Food Hamper program’s intake counter, I met an older woman who I may never meet again. However, a mark was left and a burning memory remains.

Late in the afternoon, during an average, uneventful day, an ordinary looking, older woman came to the front asking for food assistance. I asked her name, entered it into our computer system, and up popped her profile. It was similar to all of our other program participants’ profiles except for one glaringly red difference. Up in the corner were the large red words, CANCER. Before I could confirm this with her she told me, “I have lung cancer.” Here I was with someone who not only required emergency food assistance but the food provided by the program was going towards supporting her recovery or, at the least, to help her cope with her poor health. This woman had to have been under an incredible amount of stress; emotional and mental stress in requiring the program’s help and physical stress due to her health. After she left some thoughts continued to stick in my mind. (more…)

What do we do other than provide food hampers?

June 20, 2012

As part of my ongoing training I’ve been tasked with finding out the services we offer other than food hampers. Although the bulk of our resources go towards providing people with emergency food hampers, we do offer other services. These fall into two main categories: non-food supports we offer to people who visit us, and food related services we offer to other organizations.

Let’s start with the non-food services we offer to patrons. First of all, we have our lovely lobby, which is kept in order by Wouda and Carola (see their profiles here and here). Everything in the lobby is free for anyone who wants it, including the clothing, shoes, and extra food we put out. We also offer people household goods, like pots, pans, cutlery, and even bedding, if they are in need. They can ask us for these things in our lobby and we try to accommodate their needs.

The lobby

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Volunteer Spotlight: Ursula

June 18, 2012

Ursula has been volunteering at the Emergency Food Hamper Program since April, giving over 35 hours of her time to the program.  Ursula volunteers alongside two of her children each week, making Mondays a family affair at 807 Guelph Street.  We have loved getting to know Ursula in the past few months, and look forward to many more laughs together! 

How did you hear about House of Friendship?

I first heard about House of Friendship through my daughter, Connie (see her spotlight here).  She has been volunteering here for over seven years now and it sounded like it was something that I would like to be involved in.

What do you enjoy about volunteering at the EFHP?

I like volunteering at the EFHP because it is something that gets me out of my home and helping people in need.  It is wonderful to be able to volunteer alongside two of my children and to meet all of the volunteeers at the program.

Since my husband passed away earlier this year, I have been quite lonely at home.  Before I had my husband to care for, but now I don’t, so volunteering has been a good way for me to keep busy.

What’s your favourite job at our program?

My favourite job at Food Hampers is bagging the fruit, but I am up certainly up for whatever comes my way.  I like it all!

 How has volunteering impacted your life?

Volunteering has given me something meaningful to do.  At home, I just sit and watch TV.  This volunteer position has given me a sense of purpose.

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

I haven’t volunteered with any other programs in the area.  I used to work at Dare Foods, packing cookies on the line.  It has been great to reconnect at the EFHP with a former co-worker, Sharron, who also volunteers here.

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

I like to read all different types of books, ranging from biographies to books about nature and animals.  My love for animals has me regularly watching Animal Planet on T.V.  Family is very important to me, so I love time spent with my 10 children, 21 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren.

Thanks Ursula for taking the time to share a little bit about yourself with us!  We appreciate all your hard work bagging whatever bulk food items we bring your way. 

Closer to Home

June 14, 2012

As myself and a few others have written about in the past, the experience of providing food to patrons becomes much more personal the moment you are able to make a connection, perhaps recognizing yourself or people you know in patrons and their stories. This has been something that I have been continuing to learn and experience through my time working here at the Emergency Food Hamper Program (EFHP). However, earlier this week I experienced something that took this to a new level.

I received a message from two good friends of mine (let’s call them Mike and Jessica for the sake of this post), asking where someone could go to access emergency food. Upon talking with them more, I came to learn that a mutual friend of ours needs food assistance. Mike and Jessica were hoping to get some more information about the process of obtaining an emergency food hamper, in hopes that they could relay the information to our friend.

I can only imagine how anxiety-provoking it is for individuals who have never walked through our doors before to come for the first time; there are so many unknowns. Where do I go when I walk in the door? Will people judge me? Who will I talk to? Will they be friendly? Can I trust them? Will they ask me how much money I make? What if I’m not eligible? How will they know what I need? What if I need too much? Keeping in mind that it may be stressful for this friend of ours, I explained in detail the program and how it worked to Mike and Jessica, including details about what we’ll ask, where to wait, how the program works, and how to get here by car/bus. I knew that Mike and Jessica were going to relay the information to our friend, and then also accompany them to our warehouse to pick up a hamper for the first time. I figured it was the least I could do to try to make their experience in asking for help a bit less stressful.

After explaining all of this, the reality hit me that there is someone that I know who requires emergency food assistance. It made me sad to realize that, but also grateful that there are programs such as this, and friends like Jessica and Mike to walk alongside our friend as vulnerability is acknowledged. It opened my eyes to how unpredictable life’s measures of security (namely finances) are. In the blink of an eye, something could happen (as Melissa illustrated in this post) and the tables could easily be turned, so that it’s me on the other side of the counter. I have had glimpses of this reality before, but through this most recent experience it has become that much closer to home.

I am learning more than ever through my internship here at House of Friendship’s programs that life and its provisions are not to be taken for granted. I am grateful for what I have been blessed with and the situation that I am in, which is so different from many of the people with whom I interact. And I’m grateful, too, for this enlightening experience through which I realized more of how food insecurity and similar issues can literally affect anyone. I’m especially grateful for and find it an honour to extend the hand of friendship whenever and however I can.

Do Canadians have a right to food?

June 11, 2012

Is it enough?

At the Emergency Food Hamper program, we believe everyone has a right to food. That’s why we do the work we do. Incidentally, the United Nations also believes in the right to food, as its enshrined in the Universal Declaration for Human Rights. Recently, they sent Olivier de Schutter, the special rapporteur for the right to food, (visit his website here) to visit Canada (read about his visit here and see what he had to say on CBC here). A special rapporteur is a fancy name for someone who investigates how well countries are living up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. His report (which you can read in full here) criticizes the Canadian government for not doing enough to ensure everyone’s right to food, and outlines what he believes to be some action items the government of Canada needs to take in order to increase food security.

Some of De Schutter’s recommendations really hit home for our program. For example, he recommended raising the minimum wage to a living wage. It’s really tough for people to make ends meet if they have children and are working minimum wage. We frequently see people who are working part time or full time but with children and extra expenses (such as medical costs if they do not have health benefits at work) it can be hard to find room in the budget for food. A living wage can be defined as the amount a single person needs to make in order to live modestly but comfortably in their community. For Waterloo Region in 2007, Opportunities Waterloo Region calculated this to be $13.62 per hour, full time (see their site with articles and resources here). For families or single parents, this amount would need to be a bit higher to accommodate the needs of kids. (more…)

You too, can retire by age 90!

June 7, 2012

Forget retiring by age 55, some people are looking to retire (in some cases for a second time) from their current line of work by age 90.  Can they do it?

I hope so!

How are they going to do it?  By adopting a time honoured way of working together and organizing: they’re going to form a union!  A union of food bank volunteers in fact.  Calling themselves the Freedom 90 Union (check them out by clicking here) they have a few simple demands.

First off, they want to be laid off!  They want the government to take urgent action to address income support programs like Ontario Works, and measures like the minimum wage, so that people can buy their food instead of having it given to them at an emergency food program. Second, they want to see the end before they reach age 90.  Action should be sooner rather than later.  Third, they joke, freeze or double our wages!  Since they are all volunteers, to them, it doesn’t matter.  They only want to see food banks close their doors, and the need for them to disappear into thin air.

Are they going to picket? Will they strike if their demands are not being met? (more…)

Reflections on my first few weeks

June 4, 2012

I’ve been asked to think about three things that have surprised me since I started this position about two weeks ago. I’m actually glad to have this task because it has allowed me to reflect on my time here, and hopefully this will help me grow as an intake worker. I will try to leave out the surprises I talked about in my last post (how nice the volunteers are! How awesome the program values are!) and reflect on other things I’ve noticed. (more…)