The Good the Bad and the Unexpected: First Reflections on Emergency Food


The following was written by Khadija Hamidzai, Summer Special Projects Assistant at House of Friendship’s Emergency Food Hamper Program

During my first day at the Emergency Food Hamper Program (EFHP) I weighed and bagged various types of meat, which were then placed in hampers for different family sizes. When hampers are put together and given out I didn’t initially notice the amount of planning that is put behind every box. Every item in a food hamper is given out for a very specific reason, for example, individual dietary needs and family size. I appreciated the care and thought that went into every box – making sure each individual was catered to adequately.

I also really liked the fact that we try to provide all of the major food groups for our patrons. The variety within the food groups is sparse but decent enough. It’s also neat to me that there is always something new through the door that we can share with community members. Walking through the warehouse reminds me of being in Costco because everything is in bulk.

EFHP “ShopperChopper.” Source:

Due to the amount of food that we get and specifically large quantities of it at a time we need somewhere to store fresh foods for later use. I didn’t ever think we would have so much food–especially frozen food–that we would need a massive walk in freezer, and an even larger fridge. But we do!

The produce is definitely fresher than I thought it would be but unique at the same time. We’ve had cauliflowers the size of dinner plates because they were too big to sell. Conversely, we’ve had watermelons the size of large grapefruit simply because they are too small to sell. They are perfectly good for our patrons just unconventional.

Wild foods galore!

Speaking of out of the ordinary foods, Raymond our distribution coordinator narrated to me a grand tale where once we got a donation that looked like a guitar wrapped in cloth. The staff unwrapped it and it turned out to be a Halal goat, shipped from New Zealand. One of the volunteers had experience butchering meat—according to Health Code, of course–and we packaged it up for our patrons.

I did not expect to find desserts and meat for all kinds of diets here at the EFHP because they seem like rare finds to be donated by local organizations and charities. When I started here I thought that food banks usually have only the bare minimum to give away. It’s hard to put together a hamper for a square meal, so giving away anything more than the basics is a definite treat! Pun intended. Huge thank you to our local grocery stores and the many food drives that help us at the EFHP provide the unexpected to our patrons!

What goes up must come down; with the good always comes with the not so dandy. A few of the nuances of the food offered here at the food bank:

  1. The ratio of canned to fresh fruits is overwhelming. And even if we have produce it is sometimes of inferior quality simply because we are dependent on food donors and this limits what we are able to do and share.
  2. There is no consistency in terms of donations. You can’t guarantee what you get on any given day or week. It’s the luck of the draw!
  3. As well there are not enough staples like milk and butter for every household.

I think that one of the biggest reasons the EFHP has a large abundance of food and is so successful is because we can hand out food pretty quickly. Lots of agencies don’t have the same ability that we do. On average, any given day, about 125 patrons come through our doors. Anything with a best before date the day of can be given away immediately within a day. So for example, 100 litres of milk donated to us with a same-day best before date can be sent out to 100 homes that day.

Milk! Source: YouTube

I’ve enjoyed learning about the intricate food system in the region and how it impacts non-profits like us here at the HOF. It’s been intriguing to discover all the recipes for new foods I didn’t even know existed that we get from our donors. I’m learning the value of food preservation and how food insecurity is a very real issue in our community. It’s going to be an eye-opening summer for me.


One Response to “The Good the Bad and the Unexpected: First Reflections on Emergency Food”

  1. Elna Robertson Says:

    Thank you for your insightful commentary on the emergency food program run by House of Friendship! I follow this blog regularly and have been impressed (and educated) by the sharing of stories. Your observations as a summer student add a fresh perspective for all readers.
    Elna Robertson

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