How To Take Two Trips For The Price Of One


Museums like the ROM, different cities, camps and more are all great places to go on a school trip. Photo via Flickr user Grant MacDonald

One of the nice things about being a parent is the opportunity to accompany your child or children on a school trip: you get some insight into class room dynamics, spend some time with your child, and learn a bit about the environment in which they spend so much of their time.

At the end of the year, many classes organize school trips.  I remember these as great experiences to go outside of the community I grew up in, visit new places with my friends and have a lot of fun.

For the first part of this week, my co-worker at the Emergency Food Hamper Program, Raymond, was absent as he accompanied one of his children on an end of year trip.  As a result I stepped into his role a little more than I usually do, and coordinated the challenging and interesting job of receiving, organizing, inventorying and distributing the many food donations we receive.  This week was a little more challenging than others.

The logistics of generosity

Each week, we never really know how much food we will have, or exactly how many people we will serve. Forecasting food supply is difficult because it depends on somewhat unpredictable donations. On the demand side, trends start to emerge after you keep careful records of daily service (and do a lot of math) but they too can fluctuate, especially when there is a recession.

Some trends in demand for our services are easier to understand than other. For example, on about the 20th of each month the government issues the Canadian Child Tax benefit.  As a result, we typically see fewer households with children in the following days. When tax refunds are typically issued, we will see fewer households.

The mathematics of food insecurity

People come to the Food Hamper Program for help because they do not have enough money for food. When people with little or no money get more money, they can buy food; and become more food secure.

So, on Monday this week, sitting at my desk with my scribbled inventory notes, a cup of coffee and the various spreadsheets that we have built I saw that historically, around the 15th of June we see a spike in demand for our services.  There was a very significant chance that were going to serve somewhere in the range of 140+ households that Monday, and likely less people the following days.  As it turned out Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we served a total of 423 households (134 + 145 + 144 Households) made up of more than 900 people.  To put those numbers into perspective, so far this year, our average per day service number is around 120 households, and the week before, for that same time period we served an average of 115 households a day.

Why so busy all of a sudden?

Likely school trips and other end of school year events like Prom, or the need to register for summer recreational programming or camps offered out of community centres or other city facilities.

While it’s fun to go on school trips, it’s less nice for the parents who need to pay the bills.  School buses, accommodations and other incidental costs don’t pay for themselves.

Peer pressure, wanting to fit in, and not wanting to deny your child the opportunities that their peers are enjoying are compelling reasons for parents to save money in advance of the end of the year.  However, budget plans don’t always work out the way you want them to, and other costs brought about by the change of seasons (outgrown clothes from last year need to be replaced for example) put further pressure on already stressed finances.

In conversation with Fariba, an outreach worker at the Sunnydale Community Centre, she shared with me the fact that in June, their already busy site, sees more requests for help with registration for summer recreational programming.

One ticket, two destinations

So, as a result, our volunteers, a generous community and a well connected food assistance network met the additional demands to the best of our ability. People came, and we gave them food.

For some of the families we served this week that may have been enough.

However, as you navigate through your own life, consider that your neighbours probably face other, different, dilemmas, dilemmas that a box of food won’t make go away.

Wouldn’t you agree that we should all enjoy the same opportunities–especially our children, who do not have the same ability  or power to take responsibility for achieving those opportunities? No parent should have to arrive at our door, so that their children can enjoy the same enriching experiences as their peers.

For many people this door is their first experience with the House of Friendship Emergency Food Hamper Program

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2 Responses to “How To Take Two Trips For The Price Of One”

  1. Melissa Says:

    It’s interesting to see a shift to the 15th being busy, as I remember it being more on the 10th since that’s the exact middle point. But your team does a great job in managing demands and has an AMAZING group of flexible volunteers to work around the demands to support people in need 🙂 Kudos to this program!!

    • Matt Cooper Says:

      Thanks Melissa! Thankfully we had a lot of volunteers so things flowed smoothly over the three days. Lots of stocking and restocking happened!

      It can still be busy around the 10th, but some people get tax refunds on the 10th now so that really helps. But the main thing is that school ends next week and people need to register their kids for summer camps and similar programming before they fill up. Some volunteers where sharing with us the costs for some of their kids end of year school trips and it was pretty shocking.

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