Archive for July, 2012

Strategic Planning (or, why we need a House of Friendship road map)

July 31, 2012

This year at the House of Friendship we developed a new strategic plan for the whole organization, including new mission and vision statements, and new organizational values. Visit our website to read our full plan (its not long, I promise!) Over 400 people were consulted in the development phase of the strategic plan, and over one third of those consulted were past and present program participants. This is the first of a series of blog posts that will explore these new statements in relation to Food Hampers and other House of Friendship programs. Before I get into how the strategic plan shapes our programs, I want to go into the importance of having a strategic plan.

This article on strategic planning starts with a quote from Wayne Gretzky, who once said “I skate to where I think the puck will be.” Similarly, the House of Friendship needs to not only be aware of current social realities (poverty, disability, troubled neighborhoods and communities for example), but anticipate future social realities in order to grow to meet the needs of our community.

Think about each House of Friendship program as a person. Together, the programs form a group of people who are navigating obstacles as they try to support people through housing instability, isolation, poverty, addiction, and food insecurity. Picture this group of people travelling on a journey, where they have agreed on an end point—a city, for example. They also agree on how they will travel to this city; by foot, by car, by bike, or by transit. They know it is going to take them a long time—probably years—to reach their end point, so they decide on a set of guiding principles to help them work together as a group, and to determine how to act should they run into problems.

In real life, a strategic plan works much like this. For the House of Friendship, the end goal of our work is our vision: A healthy community where all can belong and thrive.  Maybe this will be unattainable in our lifetimes, but this is the work we have set for ourselves throughout our history. How we get there is our mission statement: House of Friendship strengthens people and communities by being there when needed, speaking up and working together. The shared principles about how we act and how we treat others on our journey are our core values. Going back to the hockey analogy, Wayne Gretzky doesn’t play hockey with a copy of the team’s mission, vision, and values out at all time, but he does pay attention to the coach’s game plan, while taking into account the immediate realities of his surroundings. In the same way, the House of Friendship has a game plan, or strategic plan, which helps individual programs deal with new situations as we travel down the path to a healthier community.

In the long-term, a good strategic plan should shape every operation of the organization. Each program should fit into the organizational mandate and operate in line with the values. In an organization like the House of Friendship where there are many programs in different places around Waterloo Region, it can also be a unifying force; although I rarely see our community centres in action, because I work at the food hamper program, I know they are working towards the same common cause.

In upcoming posts this summer we are going to explore how our programs are thinking about and living out our new strategic plan in their day to day work. We have a really diverse set of programs that each contribute to creating a healthy community in their own way, and we share common values that bind us together. I’m looking forward to explore the impact of the new plan on all of the work we do at the House of Friendship. Stay tuned!

The question box: why do we give out expired food?

July 24, 2012

Our question box

At a service program like Emergency Food Hampers, it’s often hard to make staff seem approachable. No matter how friendly or trusting staff act towards patrons, there will always be a power divide. We have the power to give people food or withhold it for reasons we deem legitimate. Although we do make many exceptions and operate based on trust, the perceived (and real) power divide exists.

It was partially for this reason that a few weeks ago, we came up with the idea of putting a question box in our lobby. The idea behind this is that if people felt too self-conscious or shy to ask front desk staff a question about our program, they can put it in the box instead. If they leave a telephone number or email, we can contact them within a week to answer their question. If they don’t, we can answer the question on the blog. This is supposed to be a way for people to have multiple routes to getting information about our program. As such, this is installment one of question box answers.

The first question we found in the box read: why do you give people expired food? This is an excellent question!


Child nutrition in Canada: poverty, health and well-being

July 17, 2012

A few weeks ago Nadir was talking to a woman at intake that had brought her daughter with her to pick up a hamper. Nadir asked the girl, “no school today?” The mother responded that she didn’t have a lunch to send with her daughter to school, so she kept her at home instead. Unfortunately, this is not an unusual statement for us to hear at intake.  Faced with the option of having her daughter go to school hungry—where her child might face social isolation from her peers, and her teacher might contact Family and Children’s Services—or not sending her at all, the mother had to make a choice. Like many Canadian families, this mother probably had to choose between sending her child to school with a nutritious and school appropriate lunch and being able to pay her rent for the month. For the child growing up in poverty, this decision will have a long term effect on their education, health, and probably their social well-being.

The extent of child poverty in Canada was outlined in a recent report by UNICEF (which can be found here), called “measuring child poverty:  new league tables of child poverty in the world’s richest countries.” The report ranked the wealthiest countries in the world according to how many children were in relative poverty. According to UNICEF, a child is living in relative poverty when they are living in a household where disposable income is less than 50% of the median disposable income for the country. By this criteria, 13.3% of Canadian children are living in relative poverty. What’s more, as this article explains, though the federal government once pledged to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000, now, 12 years after that milestone has passed, there is still no national definition of child poverty or concrete strategies at a national level to reduce it. Though it is hard to know for certain how many children are poor because there are competing definitions of poverty and different ways to measure it, we do know that of the approximately 851 000 Canadians who visited food banks in 2011, over one third of them were children (see this infographic for more information from food banks and yearly report cards on child poverty here from Campaign 2000).


New Arrival

July 12, 2012

Michael, our BSW placement student has finished his time with us.  He is not only graduating and starting to pursue a Masters of Social Work, he and his wife also recently started a family.  His parting blog post, reflects on this change and the struggles that he has witnessed during his time with us.  We wish him well and hope to see him and his daughter again soon!



Volunteer Spotlight: Sharron

July 3, 2012

Sharron has been volunteering here since October 2008, giving over 600 hours of her time!  When Sharron is here, you can always find her bagging bulk food items.  She is always up for whatever we send her way!  We really do value the commitment of volunteers like Sharron at the EFHP.  Here’s what Sharron had to say about her experience as a volunteer at the EFHP:      

How did you hear about House of Friendship?

I think I first heard about House of Friendship’s Emergency Food Hamper Program through a newsletter I received in the mail after having given a donation to the Charles Street Men’s Hostel.  There was something about the EFHP in it, and it sparked my interest.

What do you enjoy about volunteering at the EFHP?

I enjoy the social aspect that volunteering at the EFHP offers me.  It gets me out of the house and doing something that is able to help so many people in the community.

What’s your favourite job at our program?

My favourite job at the Food Hamper program is bagging fruits and vegetables.  I have a wonderful ‘boss’ here, and he certainly keeps me busy.

How has volunteering impacted your life?

Volunteering at the EFHP has given me a greater knowledge of the world of fruits and vegetables.  Volunteering has also shown me the needs that exist in Kitchener-Waterloo.  I love that a program like Food Hampers is able to help the whole family, pets included!

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

Before the EFHP, I hadn’t volunteered anywhere else.  I used to work at Dare Foods with another volunteer at the EFHP, Ursula, and it has been great to be able to work alongside her again!

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

In my spare time, I enjoy reading all different kinds of books.  I love animals, so T.V. channels like Animal Planet really interest me.  I also enjoy being outside and going on walks.  Family is very important to me.  I have a son and a daughter and we get together at least once a week for a family meal.  I always look forward to visits with my son’s dog, Libby too!

Thanks for taking time to share with us Sharron!