Reflections On A Summer At The Food Hamper Program

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House of Friendship believes strongly in housing as a right

Today I am please to share the final post from one of our summer students, Khadija, where she shares some reflections on her eight weeks here at the Food Hamper Program.

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I have had a new and eye opening experience here at the Emergency Food Hamper Program at the House of Friendship. I have been introduced to an environment that has allowed me to come in contact with an  array of individuals – from those facing food insecurity working to make ends meet to those teaching and/or getting numerous degrees at prestigious institutions.

I was extremely blessed to learn more about where and how I, as a student, millennial and general human being can be kinder, more understanding, conscious and loving. I’ve come to better grasp where my boundaries are with others so that I may courteously address them and stand up for myself. I’ve learned that respect is a word that is unique to each individual and should be attuned to each person’s comfort level – no two folks will have the same take on what is ok to say or do anytime or anyplace. It was a much needed summer here. I’m a better person for it. My values and ideals have been put to the test and I think that in itself has been the best thing that could have come out of the last two months. The next few paragraphs are going to delve into some of the challenges that I experienced and chose to address in my role as the Summer Special Projects Assistant here at the EFHP. Happy reading!

The Limits Of Donations

The Emergency Food Hamper Program, much like the Food Bank of Waterloo Region, has food donated to it in an attempt to help the large number of citizens in need of food. This in itself as a theory should eliminate the vast number of people who don’t have enough to get by on a weekly and even daily basis. The overwhelming numbers of people who struggle to make ends meet are a complex problem that the food given out does not really change. EFHP’s volunteer coordinator, Jesse, writes “we already [globally] have enough food to feed the 10 billion people we expect to be around by the year 2100. This does not mean, however, that there is always food where it’s needed, when it’s needed”.

The reason why a food crisis exists in a country like ours in Canada is for a couple of reasons: 1) people can’t afford to buy the food due to political and social discrepancies and 2) food is getting more expensive because of distributional inefficiencies. Both of these concerns are not any that us here at the EFHP can solve or even begin to tackle simply because we aren’t advocates or activists – we are a charitable organization that serves the community. We see a need in the community and we work to fulfill it. Which as admirable and necessary as it is, didn’t ever make me feel like I was creating lasting change while I was doing intake, packing hampers in the warehouse or blogging about my experiences on the job.

Missed Connections

It’s always quite disappointing when we encounter patrons who evidently are going through something or are having a rough day. Not only because I empathize with others when they are clearly anguished but also because the nature of my job doesn’t allow me to really get in there and understand why one is upset; the philanthropist in me wants to mend everything in sight that isn’t healing. When I have a long line of patrons waiting to be served I understand that getting through everyone’s needs is my first priority. Any other concerns that I have can’t take precedence over serving our patrons as quickly and efficiently as possible. To make matters worse, while I am doing intake on the computer it is tough to emotionally connect with our patrons since my eyes are always on the screen either inputting or checking information. When I hand the patrons their food slips to check off all that they can eat then they aren’t able to connect with me because their eyes are on their sheet – another missed opportunity. The “thank you, please have a seat and your name will be called out soon” is the only chance I have to truly look at my patrons – but that doesn’t suffice. I feel like it is a hit and run – you momentarily make contact and then speed off in your own way without really asking about people and getting to know them. I don’t feel satisfied or that I am making any tangible impact. I feel like I am completing a task – albeit a useful but not a meaningful one.

The Real Hero Is Not In The Room

Often times after I help a patron fill out their food slips and give it to our volunteers to pack the hamper, the patron will say things like; “thank you so much” or “you really helped me out a lot today”. And to me I don’t feel like I am really doing much or deserving of the kind words because after all what am I really doing? I register patrons in and fill out a food slip with them and that’s something anyone can do. Especially when you are being paid to do it. The real gratitude should be going to those who donated the food, those who deliver and pick up the donations and our volunteers who are packing the hampers. Every single time someone thanks me I am left feeling uneasy because those who deserve the recognition aren’t getting it mainly because they are “behind the scenes.” So I’ve learned to understand that the gratification the patrons feel is for the fact that they can get a hamper at all. It’s thanking anyone who helps in the process. And I am a tiny part of that team that does so.

Thank You!

I’d like to close off this post by giving a huge shout-out to the volunteers at the EFHP. Through this network I’ve met some incredible mentors and the sweetest friends who make me beam every time I get to see them come in and lend some of their time to our program. I’ve been exposed to intriguing world-views and relished in some moving conversations over coffee with these beautiful people. They are all one of a kind and riveting. Thank you for always being a source of joy and laughter around the office and warehouse. I enjoyed meeting every one of you and have learned so much more about the kind of person I want to be as I take the bull by the horns in life.

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