First Days and a Typical Day at the Food Hamper Program

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[Chloe, Summer Special Projects Assistant at House of Friendship’s Emergency Food Hamper Program, wrote the following post.]

I have been fortunate enough to be part of the Emergency Food Hamper Program for the past three and half years, as a summer student and as a volunteer. Being here all this time has given me insight into how the program works, through patron intake, hamper packing and sorting donations.

Today’s post includes a glimpse into my very first day three years ago, as well as what a “typical” day here looks like. In part two of the series, coming soon, I collect and share various colleagues’s perspectives on what working at the program is like.

I had not heard of the House of Friendship before I started looking for places to volunteer. But I decided to take a chance when the opportunity arose, as I wanted to start gathering experience in the social work field before beginning the Social Development Studies program at the University of Waterloo, way back in January 2012. I remember feeling nervous and excited for my first day.

Off the beaten path, outside of my comfort zone

Unfortunately the program is not centrally located in Kitchener, and so travelling there the first time was a challenge. The first person I met was the then volunteer coordinator, Matt G. Looking back, I’m grateful that I was able to be trained by him, as he clearly explained the hamper process to me. The quota system, which is created to decide how much of each food item to distribute to every household, seemed daunting at first (wait, I have to do math here?!) but I somehow picked it up quickly. This part of the hamper packing process, where I can organize the boxes of food and choose as best as possible what to give to each household, is still my favourite. But then there is the window.

window quotas

Here, the hamper packer calls the name of the patron that they packed the hamper for out into the lobby. Back then, the thought of doing this, as someone who is very shy, soft spoken and clumsy, absolutely terrified me. But Matt–only on my first or second hamper–got me to do it, and despite my mind racing with anxious thoughts, I didn’t try to back out of it. I remember leaving that day feeling proud of myself for doing something completely out of my comfort zone. Even though that initial nervousness has remained ever since, it has never stopped me from coming in, allowing me to continue to try new things. This is especially important now that I am a summer student, with many more responsibilities.

The art and science of hamper math

Being a summer student has allowed me to see the ins and outs of the program on a daily basis. Every morning we double check and count all the hampers booked the previous day. That number is used to track trends in hamper distribution by day, month, and year. The office staff also start taking intake orders by phone at this time. These phone calls make intake more efficient and quick for both staff and patrons. Raymond, our warehouse worker who collects all of our food donations, asks how many telephone calls we receive in the mornings, because that number helps him roughly forecast how busy we will be.

Donated labour and donated food

In the morning, warehouse volunteers help Raymond prepare for the day. On Monday and Thursday mornings, it is especially handy to have more volunteers, when we receive donations from the Food Bank of Waterloo Region. After much community mobilizing in the 1980s, this organization was created to combat a desperate need for food assistance. It is now the logistical hub for 82 community agencies and programs that distribute food in the region. After the tractor trailer arrives, our volunteers sort through totes with all kinds of foods. With the help of Raymond, decisions are made on what can be salvaged. Without the help of the volunteers, some of the donations might not be distributed, as sorting through the often random, fragile donations takes a lot time and energy.  Once everything is sorted, Raymond decides how soon the donations should be used, and the quotas for the day are created. Some foods that should be used right away are put in the lobby, and can be taken by both patrons and volunteers.

Doors open!

At 11:00, the doors open for the patrons, and the hamper packer volunteers start their day. At this time, the office staff start doing intake in person, and all patrons fill out a list of food that they need.

food slips annotated

Annotated food slips: we accommodate where we can

These choices can vary household to household, and the program accommodates many different diets. This reflects our knowledge of the diversity of our clientele. There are three dietary considerations we see the most. Because people with less money typically experience worse health, many of our patrons suffer from chronic diseases like diabetes. (In short,  Many patrons–for religious or other reasons–also choose not to eat pork, and this changes how a volunteer packs a hamper, considering that items like beans and sauce and even yogurt (yes, yogurt) often contain the meat product. Finally, many patrons we serve are Muslim, and eat halal-permissible foods as per Islamic dietary laws. After we chat with patrons and they fill out a food slip, the slip goes to volunteers in the warehouse, who pack hampers based off of both the quotas and the patrons’ food lists. This continues until we close at 4:15.

More than emergency food

Throughout the day, staff and volunteers have a chance to socialize and joke around. The food hamper program is a community, and it’s great to see the connections people are able to make when they come here. Once we close, all staff and some very dedicated volunteers stay to help clean the warehouse and lobby, and put all the fruits and vegetables in the cooler overnight. Every day is a team effort. I am grateful that we are always able to come together to become the well-oiled machine that we must be, to complete all of these tasks.

In my next post, I will delve a bit deeper into different aspects of the program, with the help of a few of my colleagues.

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2 Responses to “First Days and a Typical Day at the Food Hamper Program”

  1. Difference and Repetition at Food Hampers | Hofemergencyfoodassistance's Blog Says:

    […] Extending the hand of friendship to our neighbours in need since 1939 « First Days and a Typical Day at the Food Hamper Program […]

  2. You Say Zucchini, I say Courgette, and Darwin Says Cucurbita Pepo | Hofemergencyfoodassistance's Blog Says:

    […] that grows vegetables for us and other food programs. At this time of year we distribute zucchinis through the window as an option for patrons. Because we often receive them in such massive quantities, we also usually […]

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