Archive for April, 2013

National Volunteer Week: how far have we walked together?

April 26, 2013

Imagine you are sitting in your family room watching your favorite show on TV.  It’s the commercial break, and your stomach rumbles.  It’s been a long day at work and you’re tired.  Is it worth it to walk all the way to the Kitchen and fix yourself a snack?  We’ve all been in the state where your will and motivation to get up and get moving is definitely lacking.  Sometimes it’s hard to fight the inertia of exhaustion.

Do you have a child?  If so, you’ve probably found yourself in that horrible situation where you’ve gone for a walk, and their favorite stuffed animal, which was clutched tightly in their arms at the start of the journey, has somehow been left behind along the path.  I’m sure you’ve spent many a frantic moment at the grocery store looking for your child’s favorite stuffed animal that they simply would not leave at home.  How far would you go to find something for someone you love like your child?

When your little one grows up will they remember you going the extra mile? Probably they will later in life, if they have children of their own and they’ll understand how you would gladly go an extra 1000 miles for your family in a heart-beat.

Now, how many miles would you walk, metaphorically or otherwise for a stranger?

Last year, our volunteers packed over 33,000 hampers for families in need. Now that is a lot of food assistance going out on a daily basis. A while back at the food hamper program, a few of us were trying to think of ways to help people wrap their heads around how many hampers 33,000 really is.  As we’ve written about in the past, understanding big numbers can be difficult. How can we possibly communicate to volunteers how much work they’ve done as a team, especially during National Volunteer Week?

A picture is worth a thousand words, as they say, and one way we thought of to help us share the significant amount of work our volunteers accomplish was a simple racetrack, on which a mascot (chosen by popular vote) would race around. So how does this work? Well every time someone packs a hamper here, they walk in a circle around some central shelves and tables, shaped like a race track. The starting line is the meat freezers, and once they get in motion, they go on to potatoes, vegetables, soup, pasta, race past the tomato sauce, fruit, peanut butter, rice, beans, baby items, bread, then coolers stocked with milk, yogurt, juice, and extra items. The finish line is crossed once they get to the window where they pass the hamper off to the family who is receiving it. We measured how far a walk (or run) it is from the beginning of the circuit to the end, and it measures approximately 20 metres. When you multiply 20 metres by how many hampers we pack, our volunteers have traveled a long distances to get food to complete strangers!

The hamper racetrack hanging in our warehouse. As the apple moves around the track, it means we've packed more hampers and walked a longer distance.

The hamper racetrack hanging in our warehouse. As the apple moves around the track, it means we’ve packed more hampers and walked a longer distance.

At first, I didn’t realize just how far we have gone together, but then we did the math. When we’ve packed 5000 hampers, that is the equivalent of 100 kilometers. When we’ve packed 5700 hampers, that is the equivalent of 114 kilometers, or the distance from our program at 807 Guelph Street to Queen’s Park in Toronto – a feat which we had already accomplished by mid-February of this year. After 23 900 hampers, we will have packed so many that between all of volunteers they will have walked the equivalent of here to Parliament Hill in Ottawa (we will likely have covered this ground by the end of the summer or beginning of the fall).

As volunteers pack more hampers, we multiply the hampers by the amount of distance walked per hamper. To help volunteers understand the impact each day volunteering with us has, we then move our little mascot, Amos the Apple, around the track to mark how far we’ve walked. The racetrack is a visual representation of how hard volunteers work together. Every year, when put together, we walk over 600 kilometers together. For me, the racetrack is also a reminder of how many families in our community need food assistance, and that there is still a long way to go before we eradicate poverty and achieve food security for everyone.

Thanks to our incredible volunteers who walk with us and our program participants each day, and who go farther than they realize.

Volunteer Spotlight: Ken

April 24, 2013


Ken is one of our regular Monday volunteers. He comes in at 8am and stays until the truck is unloaded and the work is done—and he’s done this for almost 13 years! You can always tell when he’s in the warehouse if you listen for whistling or singing—Ken has a song for just about every situation. Mention your favourite herb and he’ll start singing Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair.” Talk about your friend named Layla and he’ll sing the chorus of Eric Clapton’s song by the same name. He has a great attitude when he’s here and some great friendships with other Monday volunteers, so it was nice to get to know a little more about Ken.

How did you hear about House of Friendship?

I  think I learned about it through church, but I’ve just known about it for a long time. When I retired I knew I should give back to the community and they hired me. Helping people with food is near and dear to my heart, it’s great outreach.

What do you enjoy about volunteering at the EFHP?

I enjoy the people I work with here, even Bob! Just kidding, Bob is one of the reasons I show up here. I have great friendships.

What’s your favourite job at our program?

Coffee break! Just kidding. I like unloading and stocking shelves, or helping wherever I’m needed. Packing hampers just isn’t my thing so I help out elsewhere.

How has volunteering impacted your life?

It provided structure in my life when I first retired, and it’s continued to provide structure. It’s also part of what we do as a church community, it’s just part of our ministry. Before I retired I was a teacher and an educational consultant.

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

I volunteer with church as well, right now I sit on the hospitality committee.

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

I’m in a hiking group with friends. We’ve hiked the whole Bruce Trail six and a half times, and have covered over 8000 kilometres together. We go all day every Wednesday. We always try to learn something about the nature along the trail. I’m an elections junkie too—I work for elections Canada and elections Ontario.

We’re glad you’ve chosen to keep coming to volunteer here as part of your weekly routine, Ken! Thanks for taking the time to share a little more about you.

National Volunteer Week: how our volunteers build community

April 22, 2013

“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” –Marjorie Moore

Marge and Mark take a quick break from packing hampers in the warehouse.

Marge and Mark take a quick break from packing hampers in the warehouse.

This week is National Volunteer Week, and for a program like ours that relies on volunteers to run at all, it’s a pretty special one. A few weeks ago when I was looking for inspiration for volunteer week, I came across the quote above, by Marjorie Moore. As a self-admitted political junkie, I love the quote, and I love the idea that people can work together to create a place where they feel at home. Our volunteers come in every week (or in some cases, every day!) for their shifts—so what keeps them coming back? I think what draws volunteers in is that they feel a connection to and a passion for the vision of the House of Friendship: creating healthy communities where all can belong and thrive. So, what does that kind of community look like, and what values are volunteers voting for with their hours here? I have a few ideas.

A community that believes in the right to food

The first thing I see volunteers ‘voting’ for is a community where everyone has a right to food. Everyone here is passionate about feeding people, and about creating healthy hampers. When we don’t have fresh veggies to put into hampers for people I hear volunteers lamenting the fact that the hampers aren’t as healthy as usual. White bread is always left to the end, and whole wheat goes into hampers first.

Ursula bags up some mushrooms for hampers.

Ursula bags up some mushrooms for hampers.

Volunteers like Val are excited about ‘selling’ produce people may not know how to cook, like cabbage, turnip, or papaya. They recognize that if you live on low income it can be hard to afford healthy items, and they want to give people nourishing food their family will enjoy. Every day I see excited volunteers going through recipes with people getting food, even writing down tips to send along with them. Volunteers like volunteering here because they are drawn to food issues in some capacity. Like our volunteer Sherry said, “I volunteer here because I like helping people with their food.”


Good things growing at Eby Village

April 19, 2013

House of Friendship is very enthusiastic about community gardens—we’ve got a big one at each community centre, a small garden here at the Emergency Food Hamper Program, and one is starting up this year at Eby Village!

Eby Village is a supportive housing building run by the House of Friendship. There are 64 tenants and the staff really try to foster a good sense of community. When I visit Eby Village I can tell everyone knows each other and they all get along really well.

To continue fostering a tight knit environment and friendly atmosphere, Eby Village is taking on an urban greening project this spring and summer. They have hired a part time staff person to coordinate, and there are already fifteen tenants who are meeting weekly to plan the garden. The plan is to make raised beds at the front of Eby for vegetables, and these will be high enough to be accessible for people who have trouble bending over. In the shady back area, they are planning a woodland garden, with pathways and lots of native plants. While the front area will be fairly active as residents grow vegetable plants, the woodland garden is meant to be a calm getaway that can reduce stress for residents.

An example of an accessible garden--high enough so people in wheelchairs and with other mobility issues can easily plant and weed.

An example of an accessible garden–high enough so people in wheelchairs and with other mobility issues can easily plant and weed.

I had the opportunity to talk with Allison, the supervisor at Eby, about why they want to start the garden. She says, “the urban greening project will provide tenants with the tools and opportunity to grow their own nutritious food, rejuvenate the urban space surrounding their building and develop together as a community.”


Feeding our furry (or feathered!) friends

April 15, 2013

The other day I was browsing the ALIV(e) (Awareness of Low Income Voices) blog, and came across this post, where Teri-Lee talks about how much her cats mean to her. In her words, “my cats give me a reason to get up in the morning and a feeling of being needed and loved. They give me a reason to laugh. When I feel down and alone, my cats make me feel secure and worth the effort of being.” Her post made me think of my own pets and how important they are to me, and of all the people who come in for hampers and ask for cat food, dog food, or even bird food for their animal friends.

Georgie is a dog without a home. Adopt him from the Humane Society!

Georgie is a dog without a home. Adopt him from the Humane Society!

A few years ago Matt wrote this post about giving out pet food. Many people who come in for food for themselves also come for food for their pet, usually a cat or dog. In fact, in a typical month about 17% of people we serve ask for pet food, which is over 400 hampers. We give out pet food whenever we have it, and many people are thrilled to get some food to get their furry friend through the week. This is a great service, but sometimes I am asked questions like “why do people coming in for food have a pet when they can’t even feed themselves?”

This is an important question and one I’d like to answer in this blog post. Being able to care for a pet is more complicated than simply having money, and everyone deserves to have the companionship and health benefits that come with having a pet.


Volunteer Spotlight: Val

April 10, 2013


Val has been volunteering at Food Hampers for a year now, but it feels like she’s been here forever because she fits in so well. She has something called chronic fatigue syndrome, but you wouldn’t know it by how much energy she has when she comes in–she’s always chatting with people and catching up with her fellow volunteers. She loves explaining new foods to people who use the program and trying to get them to try things they haven’t had before. My personal favourite is whenever she talks a bachelor who hates vegetables into cooking cabbage! She has also been known to drive people home with their hampers if they’re having trouble accessing transportation. It was great to sit down and learn more about such a dedicated volunteer.

How did you hear about House of Friendship?

I bumped into my dear friend Betty who also volunteers at the Food Hamper Program. I was in a severe depression at the time and told her I had nothing to do during the day, and she recommended I try it. It stabilized my life.

What do you enjoy about volunteering at the EFHP?

I love the diversity of people I work with and getting to know everyone. I love relating to the people we’re serving and trying my best to meet their needs. It’s great to be able to help.

What’s your favourite job at our program?

I love packing hampers! I like finding healthy treats for the kids, and helping  parents try healthy options like whole wheat bread instead of white. I tell people to make their kids sandwiches with one slice whole wheat and one white until the kids are used to it, and then make the full switch. I love giving people tips so they take healthier things. Feeding another person is an intimate act, and people are very defensive about what they eat, but most are open to suggestion too.

How has volunteering impacted your life?

Volunteering here has brought me out into the world again because I was very isolated. With my health concerns (chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia), I pulled further and further away from my friends. It’s very difficult to maintain a social life when I feel exhausted and my brain feels foggy all the time. I think humans have a need to be needed, and if that need involved food, then I’m there!

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

I’ve volunteered at the library taking books to seniors, with the Out of the Cold program, and in the nursery at church.

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

When I’m feeling up to it I love ten pin bowling (I’m useless at five pin). I also play darts at the legion. I love reading, especially crime novels set in the Victorian era or Agatha Christie. I grew up in England and my first love is the ocean.

I really appreciate Val taking the time to talk about her life. Her dedication and enthusiasm are infectious and brighten the mood wherever she is. Thanks Val!