Archive for March, 2015

Who Represents Hunger, Part 2

March 26, 2015
Demand for help is all over the Map and the House of Friendship Food Hamper Program

Heat map of household demand for food from the House of Friendship Emergency Food Hamper Program.


Hunger is all over the map.

In every city in Canada, people talk about some neighbourhoods as ‘better off’ than others. Though it can be tricky to specify what exactly ‘better off’ means (higher incomes? more walkable? lower property taxes?), we do seem to share some unconscious understandings about ‘better’ and ‘worse’ off neighbourhoods. However, these unconscious understandings do not often reflect reality. For example, when we mapped the addresses of all the families using our service in 2014 a striking point became clear: hunger is everywhere.

In every urban area in Canada some areas are ‘better off’ than others.  When we look closer at our records, certain neighbourhoods stand out very clearly, but as you can see, every part of Kitchener and Waterloo had someone who received service from us, at least once.  The darker, and redder the colour on the map, the more people that lived in that area needed to turn to us.  In my previous post, I discussed what people have shared about themselves with us, here at the Food Hamper Program.


Who Represents Hunger? Part 1

March 18, 2015

For many people this door is their first experience with the House of Friendship Emergency Food Hamper ProgramToday it is snowing and you are waiting outside of a warehouse.

There are a number of other people beside you, shifting from one foot to the other, trying to stay warm.  A few people are chatting quietly, plumes of white billowing out in the cold morning air, but mostly everyone is pretty quiet. You feel a bit tense, and sense the same in those around you.  At 11 a.m. the door opens and you shuffle into a lobby with everyone else and begin to form two lines.  You’re eyes have to adjust for a few seconds, and you have to wipe the fog off your glasses.  You get into the line with the people who have not phoned prior to coming. You’re going to have to wait a little bit longer now.  You feel in your pocket for your wallet, wondering what kind of ID you are going to need to show.

You are at a food bank, you’re warming up a bit, but who are you exactly? (more…)

Perspectives on Volunteering at Food Hampers

March 11, 2015

In a recent post I discussed volunteering as a “practice of solidarity.” Our communities are increasingly unequal, and so, I think, are our life experiences. This is bad. If we are going to live together, be responsible for, and care about each other, we should have some basic understandings about each other.

Volunteering at food hampers means sharing work with folks different than you. And while volunteering is no magic bullet, at its best it is unsettling and perspective broadening work.

Dennis is a farmer from the area, who’s been volunteering here about five years. He does a bit of everything around our program, including packing hampers for our patrons. (To pack a hamper you take a shopping list of sorts, with preferred items checked off by the patron, and do a loop around our warehouse, part of which is arranged like a grocery store. The hamper moves from volunteer to patron at “the window,” where we have a few last food items to share.)

Some time ago Dennis packed a hamper for an average looking middle aged guy who had not checked off vegetables on our food slip.

“I know some people don’t like vegetables, or they miss it, or forget to check it off, so I didn’t think much of it at the time.”

When he got to the window, he asked the guy about vegetables, and shared with him that that particular day we had a lot of good fresh produce: locally grown carrots, some broccoli, celery. Most of it was organic, he said to the man. The patron’s response surprised Dennis.

“I didn’t forget to check it off. I like that stuff, but I don’t want to get used to liking it. I can’t afford it the rest of the time.”

He eventually did take a bit of produce from the window, though not the best stuff, says Dennis.

“What do you say to that? It really told me about how poverty affects your choices. Everyone tells you how to eat, but when people don’t have money, even when they know what they should be eating they don’t have the choice.”

I like to think that the good food we provide is a treat, a fresh or novel complement to otherwise meticulously planned fixed-income food budgets. I hope that in some instances I’m right, but then I’ve never been in a situation where circumstances made it rational to shrink my expectations to exclude fresh food.


Volunteer Profile: Marg  

March 4, 2015

Marg has been volunteering with us for four and a half years and contributes in a beautiful way to our hampers team! She has logged 159.79 hours with us which makes her a part of the seasoned chicken club! Way to go Marg!!

Marg and Norm Warren

Marg and Norm, warming up for potato sorting

For hours on end Marg sorts potatoes with her husband to ensure that each family receives a good bag of potatoes. Every Wednesday, Marg helps out above and beyond potatoes.  I have watched Marg pay attention to anyone who walks through these doors and instantly welcome and offer her help to them. I have been inspired countless times by Marg’s, compassionate, kind and positive outlook on life. We are truly blessed here at the hamper program to have such a dedicated and well traveled volunteer.

How would you describe your life so far?

If I were to use some words to sum up my life they would include: A gift, joy, many rewards, experiences of god’s love, opportunities to share god’s love. There is always something new and exciting to discover. I don’t see the negative. I just see an opportunity to turn them around. I see humour in life and I see opportunities to grow from any hard experiences and not get bound into the negative ones.

Can you tell me about how you ended up here at the food hamper program?

I have been on House of Friendship’s board since 1996—that is 19 years! We have a passion for House of Friendship and believe in the mandate to help people realize their potential. We see compassion for people who are hurting. House of Friendship helps them turn it around. I want people to believe they are people of worth. They may not realize that they are indeed worthy. That is why I am here today at hampers.

Why do you volunteer here? Is it important to you?

It is my small way of doing what I believe in. Helping the community I live in. I appreciate the camaraderie here and the feeling of family. So the people draw me here: the staff , volunteers and the patrons. It’s a small way to give back and practise our values. We are in the background but I try to really “see” the people coming in here and let them know that they are seen. It is my way of serving god and showing his love.

What do you enjoy about volunteering at the EFHP?

Everything and everyone! The best thing is being able to share this experience with my husband, Norm. That way we can reflect on our experiences and what we learn, together as a couple.

Is there anything you want to share with the community about House of Friendship that you think people may not know?

I don’t think that people really understand or are aware of the scope and impact HOF has on the community and how it impacts the infrastructure of the region especially Kitchener-Waterloo. I believe that the biggest impact is that of a caring hand. House of Friendship strives to see where the needs are and how to respond.

What keeps you busy when you aren’t here?

Well I volunteer for Nutrition for Learning as well as being involved with our church. I teach Sunday school and volunteer on the visitation team, which is a program set up to help elderly with friendship and support. I love quilting and quilt for the MCC relief sale; and I read, exercise and watch sports on TV. Norm and I travel together and also take great delight in spending time with our grandchildren. Family is very important for us.

Do you have any favourite moments or experiences here?

Just the overall feeling of caring that we experience! Norm and I often sort through rotten potatoes. Yucky potatoes don’t get in the way.  I have a need to make things as positive as I can. They don’t need to know what I went through to make their bag of potatoes better. They just need to receive a good bag of potatoes. There’s a lot of yuck in life but it doesn’t get in the way. It is always an opportunity to make it better!

Tell me something about yourself that we may not know!

We have a cottage on the native reserve in Ipperwash on Lake Huron. In solidarity with the native and the horrible oppression they have faced throughout the years. As a result we grow to better understand their customs and ideas and beliefs.  We have made friends up there and look forward to our times up there.

I also ran a girls and boys group while in university in Hamilton in the inner-city four nights a week for youth.

It impacted me with more sensitivity to other people’s circumstances. We need to be at one with all people. See what is like to walk in someone else’s moccasins.

I need to be challenged. Physically, mentally spiritually… I need to do the best that I can. Not better than you, I only compete with one person. Myself.

On my very first day I remember sorting potatoes with Norm and Marg. Marg asked me questions and genuinely cared and at the end of the day gave me a hug and made me feel like a part of the family. Her love shines through in everything she does and makes hampers that much more inclusive and welcoming. I will always remember that feeling of acceptance and sorting through those yucky potatoes, while chatting about travel, the world and our wishes for the future.