Who Represents Hunger? Part 1

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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?

A story…

Everyone who walks through the door with you has a different story to tell.  There are some common elements, for sure, but each person we see is different, with a unique history, perhaps some tragedy, and a lot of persistence.

At the House of Friendship Food Hamper Program we have met tens of thousands of people. We meet folks at a particular, most likely quite difficult, moment in their lives. We are in a rush, and they don’t (would you?) want to open up in a room full of strangers. Stories and comments and the occasional tears have filled in some of the details of people’s lives and revealed an incredible richness of experience.

What I would like to do today distil some of the survey work we have done over the years.  In the following weeks I will to share some of the information we have collected for 2014, and talk about the geography of hunger and poverty in Kitchener Waterloo.

But, before I go into that, it would be good to know who exactly we are talking about when we are talking about someone who needs to visit a food bank.

So, you are lined up, feeling is returning to your feet and your cheeks are warming up.  The line is moving and you shuffle forwards.  Who are you again?

How you feel

You are generally optimistic (over 70% of people surveyed by us believe their situation will improve) and describe your health as generally good (however 15% people consistently self rate their health as poor across multiple surveys).

You are very likely to be experiencing mild (40%) to extreme stress (more than 35% rating “quite a bit” to “extreme stress” on multiple surveys across multiple years).

Why are you here?

You are very likely to have completed high school as your highest level of education (50%), and less likely to have complete higher education like college or university (20% of participants surveyed had spent at least a little time pursuing higher education).

You are here because you don’t have a job, or your job doesn’t pay enough to cover costs.  As a result, you are very likely to rely on social assistance of some sort. And, because of your level of education, have difficulty finding a good paying job.

How have things been going for you?

You have been having a difficult go of things for a while now but likely not too long (20% of people surveyed have been using programs like us for less than a year) or using the program for less than five years (50%).

The food you get at the program  you are in right now usually meets your needs.  In the past when we have asked you and people like you, you have shared that the food we give you sometimes or always meets you needs (according to roughly 60% of respondents), but there are some people who rarely or never have their food needs met (around 20% of those surveyed).

What are your food skills and habits?

When we have asked you, you rate your food skills fairly well, but your weakest food skill is probably food preservation or canning.

You don’t eat meals out, and by necessity you tend to spend a lot of time (40 or more minutes) and effort making your meals, which are mostly meals that you have to make from scratch.

When you were growing up, your household ate food from a garden (60%), but now, your are not likely to have access to one. One in five people surveyed regularly eat produce from a garden when surveyed.

Where do you live and who represents you?

This is where things get a little harder to talk about.  Who you are is private and confidential.  You don’t want random strangers knowing personal details about you, any more than those random strangers want you to know about them.  It’s bad enough you have to line up in a room full of people and get a box of food after telling an agency staff person who you are and where you live. Most of the time you are able to keep up appearances and not have to worry about people judging you.  What do they know about anything?  Life is not easy, but you’re doing the best you can.  They should mind their own business.  It won’t be too long before you get back on your feet.

For people talking about poverty, hunger, disability and the struggles that you face in your life every day, good, reliable information is lacking.  There are a lot of labels, stereotypes and generalizations but not a lot of accountability.  Now that we know a little bit about you, we can move on to the next discussion, that is, who represents you politically, and whether you voted for them or not, the person(s) who are supposed to work for you and your best interests.

That discussion will take place next week, in my next post…

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One Response to “Who Represents Hunger? Part 1”

  1. Who Represents Hunger, Part 2 | Hofemergencyfoodassistance's Blog Says:

    […] Extending the hand of friendship to our neighbours in need since 1939 « Who Represents Hunger? Part 1 […]

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