Reflections on my first few weeks

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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.

The first surprising thing I noticed working here was the sheer volume of hampers we distribute on a daily basis. I know there are food security issues in the region and in Canada as a whole, but seeing over a hundred people come in every day I have worked here has been a concrete reminder of how inaccessible food is on a regular basis to many people. I would say that since I have been working we have given out between 130 and 150 hampers per day. Though some are for single people, many are for families of anywhere from 2 to 7 or even 9 or more people. The staff and volunteers don’t even consider this to be particularly busy, but we are providing food for hundreds of people daily. It surprises me that this is not considered by many outside of our program to be a crisis situation.

A pleasant surprise to me is the amount of whole foods we are able to put in the hampers. Having taken part in various community and school food drives, most of the items that I have seen donated to food banks have of the non-perishable variety. While these are important staples we include in our hampers, part of any balanced diet is eating fresh fruit and vegetables. Luckily, we have grocery stores and local farmers who round out the hampers with donations of fresh fruit, vegetables, and dairy. I suppose I had an assumption that most hampers were a collection of canned items, which can be relatively healthy but do tend to contain extra salt, sugar, and processed ingredients. We try to make the hampers as healthy and balanced as possible, and since I’ve been here there have been extras offered to patrons, like sweet potatoes, avocados, and at one point, even whole flats of strawberries! There are also recipe cards for fruit or veggies that people may not have used before, like plantains or cabbage, which might be intimidating to take if you’ve never cooked them before.

A final surprise is the amount of newcomers to Canada who come in for food hampers. We regularly help people who have recently arrived in the country and need extra help accessing food for themselves and their families. Earlier this month we delivered a hamper to the Mennonite Coalition for Refugee Support for a young man who had just arrived in the country with nothing and needed food to get him through the next few days. It must be hard leaving your home country for a new one with a new language, and to have to navigate finding food, accommodation, and a means to sustain yourself and your family. Many newcomers face barriers finding work in their field, and I can only imagine how frustrating this must be. We do try to accommodate dietary restrictions for religious and medical reasons, as Nadir writes about here, although it can be hard to find food that tastes like it does back home. I was expecting to work with newcomers but they do make a larger portion of people that come in than I had anticipated. Hopefully they’re patient as I try to work through the language barrier!

I’m sure as I continue to work here I’ll encounter other surprises, both positive and sobering. So far I am very much enjoying my time here, and like I said in my last post, I’m learning a lot about food security in our area.

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