What do we do other than provide food hampers?

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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

We also help people with baby items. Formula and diapers are a huge cost for many families, so we purchase diapers and formula to ensure we can offer these on a regular basis. People can come in up to once a month for a baby hamper, which is twice as much as our theoretical limit for regular food hampers. In addition, we have a cloth diaper bank, where people can ‘rent’ cloth diapers for a certain amount of time. Using cloth diapers can save a family a ton of money, and the diaper bank reduces the start up costs of using cloth diapers. We estimate that the average cost for disposable diapers per child from birth through potty training is approximately $1927.50 to $2978.40. Compare that to the average cost of washing cloth diapers for the same period of time, $250 to $300, and you can save over $1500 by using cloth diapers!

Another non-food service we offer is referrals to other community organizations. If people are facing a food emergency, chances are they are struggling with other factors such as their rent, energy costs, medical or legal costs. Beth recently decorated a bulletin board in our lobby, with information about Ontario Works, Ontario Disability Support Program, how to start a job search, and how to find assistance for paying for home energy. On our other bulletin board we have tips for moving apartments, resolving landlord tenant disputes, job postings, and affordable housing listings. People can get most of these postings photocopied by us if they want to take them home. Intake workers can also refer people to community organizations. Just today a patron mentioned her landlord was doubling her rent, which could be illegal, so we gave her the number for the Landlord Tenant Board and Community Legal Services.

In addition to helping people with non-food items, we help some other programs and community services with food. We share food with other programs within the House of Friendship quite frequently. On Thursdays, Salvador takes any extras we have to the House of Friendship community centres. These include Kingsdale, Chandler-Mowat, Courtland-Shelley, and Sunnydale. Our location on Guelph Street is a long way from some parts of the city, and taking the bus or walking with several boxes of food can be challenging to say the least. If people can access some food help in their communities it can be a huge relief. We also offer extra food we have to programs like St. John’s Kitchen and the Charles Street Men’s Hostel. They don’t offer hampers but cook meals in house for people who need it.

We also sometimes work with other community support agencies who may request hampers for people. Just today, an outreach worker from the Working Centre in Kitchener picked up a hamper for someone he was working with. Right after taking that call, I received a call from the Mennonite Coalition for Refugee Support requesting a hamper for someone who just arrived in Canada and needed immediate assistance to get through the next few days. It’s important to be able to coordinate with other community support organizations who work directly with many of the same people as us.

Hopefully you have learned something about us that you didn’t know before! We’re more than a humble hamper agency, and we try to take a comprehensive view on poverty, why people access our services, and what other supports they may need during a difficult time. It’s also important to work with other community organizations toward a common goal, and support each other when possible.

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