Author Archive

Another Perspective on ‘Being Here’

June 22, 2011

A few weeks after I started this job, I met Maria.  She was part of a Guatemalan family that I registered. It was their first time to our program and they were accompanied by a support worker who spoke Spanish.

The husband and wife stared at me as I leafed through their paperwork— government issued for landed refugee claimants—and began to set up their file. They didn’t speak any English and were obviously uncomfortable with the entire process.  For the relatively small number of newcomer families that I deal with, this isn’t totally uncommon.  Many of them are using services like ours for the first time.  Sometimes there are cultural differences that make the whole experience a little overwhelming or stressful. I just assumed it was a new experience for them and carried on with the intake process, using their support worker as an interpreter.

“Do they have any food allergies or special diets?” I asked.

I wished I could speak Spanish so that I could better ease their worry and assure them we could help and were happy to do so.

“She is pregnant” the caseworker said.  “In fact, she is due next month. Would that make a difference?”

“OK.” I replied, “We’ll make a note of it.  Let her know that when the baby is here, we can give her some baby items as well, once a month.  In the meantime, we can put some extra things in the hamper that are appropriate for her.  Also, could you tell me their address?”

“Actually,” the caseworker replied, “they just arrived into the country a few hours ago – currently they are staying at a refugee shelter.” (more…)

Celebrating Our Volunteers Some More

May 6, 2011

Wednesday, April 27th was an important evening, not just because the Montreal Canadiens were playing. With National Volunteer Week just behind us, we hosted our annual Volunteer Appreciation Dinner at Glencairn Mennonite Brethren Church. Susan Pries prepared a delicious feast and we celebrated, once again, the many volunteers who contribute so much time and energy to all the programs within our agency.

Our blog features many of the volunteers who make up the Emergency Food Hamper Program. But consider this: House of Friendship consists of 18 different programs. Each of those programs utilizes the power of volunteers who, like the people you’ve met on our blog, have their own stories, gifts and motivations. At the volunteer banquet, we attempt to bring all those individuals together in order to acknowledge their unique contributions and give voice to their collective strength.

Between the 400 people who volunteer regularly during the year, and the 600 people who contribute their time during Christmas, House of Friendship hosts  approximately 1000 volunteers every year. That amounts to 50,000 hours of service and is the equivalent of 25 full-time positions!

It is clear that volunteers have a huge impact on the services we are able to provide. Often however, the uniqueness of these people is overshadowed by our focus on the difference they make as a whole. This year for the first time, three volunteers spoke about their specific journeys toward and within one of House of Friendship’s programs. (more…)

The Value of One, the Power of Many

April 13, 2011

“Those are a lot of garbage bags,” Matt observed early Friday morning, “people are definitely doing a little spring cleaning.” The front of the warehouse, where we store incoming non-food donations, is piled with bagged clothing like stacks of potatoes during the Potato Blitz. We faced a dilemma. With so many donated clothes, we always struggle to distribute them quickly before more arrives. That’s when Wouda, one of our long-term volunteers piped up to say, “It’s great!  I’ve got something to really keep me busy now!”

Although we are primarily a food program, we also accept clothing and other household donations. In the same way that the food we receive must be sorted and repacked, so too must these non-food items be taken out of their bags and put on hangers to be displayed in the lobby. Over ten years ago, when Wouda brought a friend in to collect a hamper, she noticed that the clothing area could use some attention. She has been responding to that need ever since, dedicating her weekday mornings to this cause.

“I just love it. I love all of it,” Wouda giggled as she surveyed the bags of treasures. She explained to me that only a week ago, there were barely any items for the lobby. She kept busy that week working on potatoes instead, but was concerned by the lack of donations that normally fill our waiting area. “Now,” she said smiling, “the donation bin is overflowing!”

Wouda peeks out from behind a few of the garbage bags of clothing we received on Friday.

Things like this happen all the time. Just when we are beginning to wonder if we will run out of size four diapers, the Food Bank tells us they just received a shipment of them. Just when we are starting to frown at the size of our hampers, we receive an unexpected donation of food. The only way we are able to make use of this good fortune is through the power of our volunteers. Wouda isn’t the only one who has to process this mountain of clothing – she is assisted by the many other volunteers who keep this place bustling. (more…)

It’s Time to Celebrate!

March 10, 2011

It seemed like we were just wrapping up Christmas Hampers when the Potato Blitz hit. Now, it too is over. Friday, February 25, we hosted the Community Potato Lunch at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and officially wrapped up a month of potato frenzy. This event, like all the events in this year’s Blitz, was a roaring success! You helped us raise another $3,100 so that we can purchase another 20,000 lbs of potatoes. This brings our grand total to 183,000 lbs of potatoes, which is 13,000 lbs above the campaign goal! (more…)

A Spud-Filled Warehouse

March 7, 2011

Below are some photos from the warehouse at various points since the Potato Blitz began. It seems like the abundance of potatoes in the Food Hampers’ warehouse is never-ending!

A skid of potatoes after the Don Cameron Night.

Full cardboard bins of potatoes after the Supermarket Blitz.

A few days later, the cardboard bins have been restocked with more potatoes.

Those mountains of potatoes are, of course, already being used. A few days ago, as a patron was filling out the checklist of food that he wanted in his hamper, he paused to ask me a question. With his finger resting on the picture of potatoes, he said, “I have been craving my homemade potato fries. Do you have potatoes today?” (more…)

The Adventures of Spuddy: A Day at the Supermarkets

February 14, 2011

Spuddy sports his trademark smile, overwhelmed by excitement at the beginning of the Supermarket Blitz day.

On Saturday morning, with a fresh layer of snow on the ground, Spuddy and Sweet Potato set out to visit all 17 of the grocery stores participating in this year’s Supermarket Blitz. It was no small task. Never before have so many supermarkets or volunteers been involved! While the results are not quite in, one thing is certain: We have a dedicated and compassionate community to be thankful for. (more…)

It’s potato time!

February 11, 2011

If you’re familiar with the many events that occur during the year at House of Friendship, you will know that December is associated with Christmas Hampers, and February is marked by potatoes! Yes, with February now upon us, Spuddy and Sweet Potato have been dug up and the February Potato Blitz is effectively underway.

The February Potato Blitz began as a fundraiser to help supplement the vast amount of potatoes that House of Friendship—in all its 18 programs—uses over the course of a year. Over time, this campaign has been refined and perfected, and now consists of three major events: The Don Cameron Potato Night, the Supermarket Blitz and the Community Potato Lunch. None of these events would be complete without an appearance from either Spuddy or Sweet Potato, the life-size potato heads who have become public faces of this campaign. (more…)

Christmas Hamper Success

December 24, 2010

Welcome to the Christmas Hamper Program.

I can hardly believe how quickly the last couple of weeks have flown by. It seems like only yesterday that I was sorting through mail at the Christmas Bureau and anticipating the excitement that occurs with the Christmas Hamper program. I didn’t know then just how massive an undertaking the Christmas Hamper program is, and how amazing our community is for responding to a need and making this project happen.

So the Christmas Hamper program has come to a close. If you haven’t already guessed, it’s been a whirlwind! The official numbers are in, and this year was yet another record breaker. With over 3,875 hampers delivered, 10,250 people in Kitchener-Waterloo received food, hope and compassion this Christmas season. In addition to these hampers, we also distributed 3,000 turkeys and 500 hams. (more…)

A Day in Santa’s Mailroom

December 9, 2010

Where tables and chairs were once left empty, the conference room at Charles Village is now full, festive and busy. Boxes marked “Food Only,” “Food and Toys,” and “Toys Only,” are collecting piles of applications, while employees and volunteers work to sort through more and more as they come with each new delivery of the mail.

This is a typical day at the Christmas Bureau which operates to coordinate all the people, food and toys that are involved with Christmas assistance. It’s the bureau that makes the Christmas Hamper Program such a success each year  (read an earlier blog post here for more info on the Program). Recently,  I had the opportunity to help at the bureau, sorting through applications and entering them into a database, and it was an awesome experience! I must admit that I felt a little like an elf in Santa’s mailroom as I sorted through the applications. (more…)

Out of the Cold

November 30, 2010

The onset of November welcomes visible change. Daylight sayings time is over, and with its conclusion comes earlier sunsets and what feels like much shorter days. The mornings are now frost covered and crisp, and I cannot make it to work on my bike without mittens. The weather is more and more winter-like everyday and for many people in our community, this creates challenges that are particular to this time of the year. (more…)