Archive for February, 2015

Link2Feed And The Technology of Food Assistance

February 25, 2015
Photo via Flickr

Photo via Flickr

Imagine you are sitting in a boat, going down a river. It’s a fairly wide river, it’s a nice day, you’re enjoying yourself.

Suddenly, there is a loud thump under your feet. The boat shakes and you land in the bottom of the boat. You weren’t paying attention to what was happening, you were lost in a daydream, enjoying the moment. But now, you’re confused and covered in water, because all of a sudden there is a hole in the bottom of the boat and you are taking on water. A lot of water.

What do you do? (more…)

Can 30 Minutes be Life Changing?

February 20, 2015


“This challenge has motivated me to get outside and do something every day. It was especially awesome convincing family members to go with me so it doubled as bonding moments.” Bethany M.


“It helped me discover the many ways I can dedicate at least 30 minutes in a day to my health even if it was only 10 or 15 minutes at a time. Thanks for helping me get back in motion!” Carol G.


“I lost 8 pounds this month and the 30 for 30 kept me SO motivated.” Dagmar K.


“I feel so much better every morning after I do my 30 minute Power Walk and I get way more done in a day. It was great fun and I’m SO full of Life!!” Rita R

So many stories and inspiration have come from the 30 for 30 Fitness Challenge.

Three years ago I quit a long term corporate career to follow my passion and launch my business, SO Full of LIFE Fitness and Wellness. I knew I wanted to connect with the community in a meaningful way but did not know where or how I was going to do that. I was honoured to be introduced to House of Friendship, a charity that aligned with my values and their mission statement “Building a healthy community where all can belong and thrive” resonated with me in a very strong way.

As my business was growing, time was not at a premium, but I wanted to lend my support to House of Friendship. So the idea of the 30 for 30 Fitness Challenge was hatched bringing my vision of changing lives out to the community. The challenge, introduced twice a year, has people register for $10 and commit to doing 30 minutes of heart raising activity for 30 days allowing 4 days of rest (on your honour and no homework is checked…wink wink). At the end of 30 days registrants have many opportunities to win great prizes including free personal training from yours truly!


What started as a way to get people active and raise money has turned into so much more. Many fantastic businesses in the community started donating amazing prizes and people began registering in order to make donations to support a great cause. Stories of better health, connection to the community and to family and friends have emerged. At the end of each challenge, participants can join together for a fun wrap up event and draw names for prizes. To date the Challenge has awarded over 50 prizes and raised over $2500 with a goal of $10,000!


Want to get in on the fun? Please email to get on the list for the next 30 for 30 Fundraiser starting June 1st, 2015. Who knows, you might get healthier, connect with friends and family, win great prizes and feel the joy in helping others in our community BELONG AND THRIVE.

Contact Sandra at for more information.

Charity, Solidarity, and the Holiday Season, part three

February 12, 2015

In the first part of this series I mentioned House of Friendship’s 12 Days for Good campaign. The 12 Days campaign is over, but hundreds of people pledged to do good this year as a result, their actions rippling outwards through our community. Part two was a guest post that asked a number of basic and difficult questions about the nature of charitable work in unequal and unjust societies: why do we donate and to what end? As our guest blogger Luke made clear, charity without solidarity is problematic at best, and at worst, seems only to perpetuate the status quo. So, illusions shattered, where to go with part three?

Today I want to try to answer some of his concerns, and return to some of the points I raised in part one about supporting charitable work and structural change.

Solidarity and doing good

To start, I want to recognize one of our 12 Days for Good “Do Gooders.”

Meaghan Coneybeare wrote aboutView More: hope, specifically about Finding Hope in Pyjamas. After watching a documentary on human trafficking that resonated with her own life experiences, Meaghan started collecting pyjamas to share with women who had escaped similar circumstances. “15 years ago, as I was running down that snowy street away from an abusive and unstable home with just the clothes on my back, I had no idea I would be helping youth in care or victims of trafficking. But I do know I had a sense of hope, and with that anything is possible.”

Meaghan was moved by feelings of solidarity. She recognized some of her own experience in someone else’s–I was like you, once, or I could have been–and then did something about it.

Many people are moved to ‘do good’ by this impulse, and I think that this kind of solidaristic recognition inspires a more responsible or ethical kind of support. Treat others like you want to be treated, right? If I have used a food bank before, or have had experiences that lead me to understand I easily could, then I‘m probably going to understand the nature of emergency food assistance differently; and I might also think harder about the importance of addressing root causes of poverty, so as to make food banks obsolete. When feelings of solidarity move us to ‘do good,’ we do good, better.

Solidarity and the state of our economy

In our current historical moment, I think there are forces working upon us that make solidarity harder, and easier.

On the one hand, solidarity is harder, because Canadian communities are increasingly unequal. In Canada, “income disparities (expressed in 2011 constant dollars) rose between 1995 and 2011.” As incomes diverge, so to do our life experiences. Most of my friends are like me, and I don’t think I’m too unusual (at least in this regard). It’s hard to make friends with people who have led a different life than you. Have you ever travelled in a country with pervasive poverty? Did you make any lasting friendships there–the robust kind of friendships that require equal respect and power? Here I think of my own charmed life, and my experiences living and working internationally, in a country where most people were quite poor, and a few were quite rich. I made friends there, but if I’m honest with myself most of those friendships were limited in ways I’ll never fully understand.


On the other hand, solidarity is easier, because Canadian communities are increasingly unequal. As the gap between the wealthy and not wealthy grows, there is a real, material sense in which our–not wealthy–fates are converging. Based on 42 years of research, University of Toronto faculty recently argued that “Toronto is transforming from a mostly middle-income city into an island of wealth surrounded by increasingly poor pockets of suburb.” A recent national payroll survey shows that increasingly numbers of Canadians are “living pay cheque to pay cheque, saving less, postponing retirement and feeling overwhelmed by debt.” Slightly over half the Canadians surveyed reported “that it would be difficult to meet their financial obligations if their pay cheque was delayed by a single week.” Other sources report that 90% of Canadians feel financially insecure. The way we we typically talk and read about poverty and charity–us with money, and them with none–makes less sense, the closer we look at the state of our economy.

Fewer of them, more of us?

The squeezing together of middle, working, and lower classes also shows up in this year’s Hunger Count, the comprehensive study of hunger food bank use in Canada.  According to the Hunger Count, the number of Canadians using food banks is 25% higher than it was in 2008: in 2014 about 840,000 Canadians used food banks each month. Our program shared nearly 30,000 hampers in 2014, with almost 9,000 families. Nearly one in five families we support report work income as their primary source of income. Many other folks come to our program to get food after their appointments at the Ontario Works office, referred here by staff who know that welfare is not enough. This is old news, and unsurprising to anyone who’s considered how much welfare pays and how much life costs, but our numbers and the Hunger Count clearly indicate that significant numbers of working Canadians are also regular food bank users.

In a gross way, there is a silver lining here: changes in the Canadian economy, like increasingly precarious work, mean more of us will naturally empathize with folks living on a low income because more of us will be living on a low income. (Or without benefits, or on a short term contract, or some combination of those things.) And if this is good, it’s probably only because democratic societies require empathy–not just sympathy. Empathy is the ability “to understand and share the feelings of another,” whereas sympathy means feeling badly for someone else’s misfortune.

Creating conditions for empathy

In radically unequal communities, I think we often do good because we are sympathetic. I don’t want to disparage this feeling. However, if we feel bad without trying to understand other people’s experiences, and, more importantly, why certain groups of people predictably and consistently experience worse health, or lower educational outcomes, or whatever, then we might not be trying hard enough.

As I’ve outlined above, there are forces at work in our communities that make it harder and easier for us to walk in our neighbour’s shoes. Some of us will have no choice in feeling solidarity with other low income members of our community. But for those of us on the wealthy side of the widening gap, how can we walk in someone else’s shoes? Are there practices that create opportunities for solidarity?

Voluntary poverty is one option. (Advocates of this approach include Jesus, Gandhi, and various luminaries in the Catholic Worker tradition, including at the Working Centre.) This option obviously demands a great deal, but it highlights an important point: for privileged folks like me, empathy will and should be unsettling, because it involves thinking about many Whys? Why do so many people choose between rent and good food? Why do government employees refer clients to us? Why are working people using food banks?

Another option is shared work–whether paid, or not. In the second part of this series Luke describes the friction between people on extreme ends of an economic spectrum. This is great, when friction turns into dialogue, and, ideally, understanding. In some ways House of Friendship creates spaces for friction, spaces that offer a bridge between life experiences, where empathy can grow through shared work. At our Christmas and Emergency Hamper Programs we have volunteers from all walks of life, and I know they enrich and challenge each other in myriad ways.

One such volunteer was also one of our 12 “Do Gooders” this year. Sandra O’Hagan wrote about a spontaneous bleed in her brain that left her unable to move her arms or walk or speak clearly. She also wrote about the community of support that helped her rehabilitate. “We often take our health for granted until we don’t have it. What a gift it is to have options and choices in caring for ourselves and staying well. Thousands in our community are not so blessed.” Sandra started her own personal training business three years ago, and remains a dedicated and generous supporter of the food hamper program.


So we try to walk with people in difficult times, and create opportunities for shared work between different folks in our community. However we must always be aware of the ‘upstream’ and human causes of these ‘difficult times.’  Most so-called difficult times are in fact the product of human decisions.  People in our community do not typically walk in to the many different programs of the the House of Friendship because of an “act of God” or a natural disaster.  They do so because of individual and collective decisions: to freeze social assistance rates, or to build more prisons instead of affordable housing or daycares.

Finally, and more importantly still, we should be careful not to let our feelings of empathy harden into the conviction that we fully understand another person’s situation. Empathy is an ideal we should aim at, even though we will always fall short. We all exist in, and experience the world in our own special ways. Yes, I can walk in your shoes, but they will fit me differently.

And hey, whether we like it or not, we’re all in this together!


Charity, Solidarity, and the Holiday Season, part two

February 5, 2015

Today’s post is the second in a three part series about the complicated relationships between charitable giving and the work of charitable organizations, especially during the holiday season. 

Our guest blogger Luke discusses below his own frustrating experiences of being caught in the middle of charitable giving without relationship, and other ways in which charitable work makes real solidarity difficult to realize.

The holiday season is now behind us. This is too bad, because for many of us November and December are the months when we donate to those in need, when we seem especially aware of injustice, pain, and suffering in our communities. It’s also an occasion to reflect on the relationships between giving, justice, and the ways we contribute—or don’t—to unequal societies.

I was fortunate enough to work as a truck driver for an organization that supports street-involved youth in one of Canada’s biggest cities. My job at this time of year was busy, but extremely rewarding. Food, clothing, toys and furniture were donated en masse. Our organization, and, more importantly, the street-youth we supported, depended on the generosity of the community–the Christmas rush. And, every so often, the “Christmas rush” created opportunities for interactions between rich and poor.