Author Archive

One year, mulitiple programs, hundreds of people

May 3, 2010

Twelve months ago I graduated from the University of Waterloo, and embarked upon a journey into a rich world of cultural, social, and economic diversity. During this time I was introduced to delicious foods I had never even heard of before, like lychees or star fruit, and I was able to share this food with others. I met people who were living, or had lived through, circumstances unimaginable to many. I communicated with individuals who spoke languages different from my own. I held babies, I organized and attended parties, I planted seeds, I drove thousands of kilometers, and now, my year-long adventure has come to a close. Friday, April 30th was the last day of my House of Friendship Social Service Internship!

I enjoyed my experience as the intern, and although I wasn’t actually traveling the world, it sure felt like it sometimes. The majority of my time was divided between three programs each week– Emergency Food Hamper Program, Live and Learn Program, and Eby Village. However, I also assisted with the Sunnydale Community Centre Summer Playground Program during the summer of 2009, the Christmas Hamper Program in December 2009, and various other programs and events over the course of the year. I am sure that the insights and understanding that I gained during this time period will continue to guide me for years to come, and can not be easily summarized. What follows is just a small slice of everything I would like to say, without crashing this blog site with too much content!

To me, my involvement with food assistance was about much more than food. It was, and always will be, first and foremost, about people. The people in need of help and the people who offered that help to them: the patrons, the volunteers, donors, and staff members who astounded me with their resilience, resourcefulness, generosity, and humility.

It seems that sometimes, when life hits you with a pile of bricks, it hits you with a whole house worth. Your husband loses his job, your car starts making a funny noise, your kid complains of a tooth ache, and next thing you know you’re paying for two fillings and a new fan belt on top of everything else. What do you do? Well, if you’re anything like the people who access any of our programs, you keep going. You move forward, and you do the best you can with what you have.

A man came in to the Food Hamper Program last week. He wore a large knapsack on his back, with a rolled sleeping bag attached. He was homeless, and living out of a tent. He needed food, but the items he could take with him were limited – he didn’t have a fridge, or cooking tools. After he received his hamper, he asked if I could open his can of tuna for him. He was starving and needed something to eat right then, but did not have a can opener of his own. It broke my heart to see this man’s eyes light up when I offered him a simple fork to accompany what may have been the first thing he would eat all day.

We couldn’t provide the food we do if it weren’t for our generous donors and volunteers. Having the chance to work side by side with people who give so much of their time and resources has been a heartening experience. Being able to work in a place where I witness extreme generosity on a daily basis has been a huge blessing. Whether it may be 10,000 ripe mangoes, 33,000 lbs of corn, 1,000 lbs of canned food, or one can of baby formula, it is amazing to know that there are so many farmers, supermarkets, community members, companies, schools, and church groups out there who remember and choose to help other people in need.

Many months ago, I met a single mother in need of food assistance. She seemed  ashamed to be in such a position. It was apparent that she felt she needed to justify her need by explaining to me her current situation. Her eyes were full of tears, but she choked them back as she explained how her son was sick, and she was missing a lot of work because of it. She told me there was a time she never would have imagined having to ask for food. She’d gotten a Philosophy Degree, but then she got pregnant and became a single mother. Finding a job in her field was extremely difficult, so she took whatever she could get, minimum wage, part-time, etc, to raise her son.

Recently, I met this woman again, but it was now me standing on the other side of the counter asking for food. I was at a local fast food restaurant. She didn’t remember me, but her service was excellent and we ended up having an interesting conversation. I couldn’t help thinking after saying good-bye that we all sit at the same table, just  sometimes in different chairs.

This woman’s situation, like many others, really stuck with me. I too have a university degree, and like her, I might one day find myself in a situation I would never perceive possible. Like so many patrons that come in to the Food Hamper Program I might go from food bank donor, to food bank recipient in the blink of an eye. No one foresees a future in which they will need to ask for help from complete strangers. No one wants to do this, but for over 20,000 people in our community, this is their reality.


Charles Street Men’s Hostel

April 16, 2010

When it comes to emergency food assistance at House of Friendship, most people think of our Emergency Food Hamper program.  However, this kind of assistance is provided through other House of Friendship programs as well.  Take for example, the Charles Street Men’s Hostel.

In 1939, when House of Friendship was founded, part of the original mandate was to provide emergency assistance for homeless men. What originated as a men’s mission on King Street has grown and moved to two different locations, settling at its current location at 63 Charles Street East, Kitchener, in 1982. (more…)

The Potato Blitz lives on through local children

March 16, 2010

Just because February is over, and the official House of Friendship Potato Blitz has wrapped up, doesn’t mean people can’t continue to donate potatoes! A great little story of a community doing just that comes to us from Riverside Public School in Elmira.

During the first week of March, Riverside held a Potato Blitz event in support of House of Friendship. Sarah Martin, a teacher at the school, and wife of House of Friendship staff member Taylor Martin, organized the Potato Blitz which received a fantastic response.

Sarah’s Grade 2/3 class loved the responsibility each morning of rounding up potatoes from the classrooms into a little red wagon and then counting them. The little troopers collected 122 bags of potatoes from their classmates, most of which were 10 pound bags! Overall, the students of Riverside Public School donated and collected 1,220 pounds of potatoes! Great job kids!

“It was fun to watch all of the little children carrying in bags of potatoes each morning. Many of them had them in their backpack, making it necessary to carry their lunch in their hands.”
-Sarah Martin

The potatoes were picked up by a driver from the Emergency Food hamper Program on Friday March 5th and were given to people in need of food assistance during the week of March 8th.

This was a great experience for everyone and we are hopeful that Riverside Public School’s Potato Blitz  will happen again next year! Thank you to everyone who took part!

They came, they gave, they ate!

March 5, 2010

Has it been a month already? It feels like just yesterday that Christine recruited me to be “Spuddy” for a CKCO TV broadcast about the then upcoming Don Cameron Potato Night. Like my 15 seconds of fame that followed, the February Potato Blitz flew by in a blink of the eye.

Community Potato Lunch, Feb 26th, 2010

On January 26th, Don Cameron Potato Night saw Ranger Fans fill the seats of the Aud, but, not before they filled the hands and buckets of House of Friendship staff and volunteers with 52, 146 pounds worth of potato donations!

Then, on February 20th, costume clad volunteers took KW stores by storm, raising the equivalent of 100,395 pounds of potatoes through the annual Supermarket Blitz.

Sandra taking care of business

Last but not least was the Community Potato Lunch, held Friday, February 26th. It was the third and final event hosted by House of Friendship as part of the 15th Annual February Potato Blitz and like the events before- it was a great success!

When Sandra arrived at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church with half of the Hostel Kitchen (you should have seen the amount of boxes of food, kitchen supplies, pots and ladles we brought over in the cargo van), 16,000 pounds of potatoes were still needed in order to reach the campaign goal of 170,000 pounds.

By the time guests plates were cleared, coffee mugs were re-filled, and John Neufeld debut as a stand up comedian was over, the goal was not only met, but surpassed!  In true House of Friendship fashion, everyone pitched in and donated $2,229.47 at the Lunch. This will provide over 20,000 pounds of potatoes because House of Friendship is able to use monetary donations to the Blitz to purchase potatoes throughout the year at a special rate.

Ashley and Matt

Hours before guests were to arrive we already knew the day would be a whirlwind success, as  energetic volunteers started coming in to help as early as 9:00 a.m. Half a dozen got straight to work, setting up the dining room with the table cloths, napkins, cutlery, glasses and plates, while another team of volunteers were busy preparing dessert plates, washing and chopping vegetables for the soups, chili, or veggie trays, in the kitchen. Eby Village tenants and staff, along with chefs Kelly Daly and Sandra from Home Depot, the Francescutti’s Family, Cheryl and Linda were among the masses helping get every thing done.  Potatoes were baked, and potato dishes were made, tea and coffee were brewed, and bread was cut. There were people stirring stove top recipes, others washing dishes, and even others offering a hand completing any other tasks. At 11:30 a.m, Sandra gave the okay to put the water pitchers out on the tables (but not a minute earlier), and with that, we were finally ready. Guests started to trickle in and were greeted by Kathryn, Shelley, and Gail from the main office, before being served by our eager spoon wielding volunteers.

John Neufeld, Executive Director, recognizes Supermarket Blitz church volunteers

Once everyone was seated and settled, tea and coffee were offered and the conversations and food consumption began! John Neufeld then expressed House of Friendship’s deep gratitude for the support received during this year’s Potato Blitz, and went on to thank and recognize the many community partners and volunteers who made it possible.

Linda and Taylor master the art of dish washing

House of Friendship staff, along with volunteers like Donna and Jan from St.Andrew’s, then stepped up to help with the mighty task of cleaning up.  And,  as quickly as it began, the Potato Lunch  drew to a close, marking not only the end of a busy day, but the end of this year’s Potato Blitz.

What a great ending it was, full of wonderful people, amazing food (mmm potato cakes) celebrating a grand total of over 170,000 pounds of potatoes raised to help feed those in need in our community.

Supermarket Blitzers win GOLD in Potato Collection Event!

March 1, 2010

The results are in and they are fantastic!

Volunteers from nine local churches rallied together on February 20th at 12 different supermarkets to collect a combined total of 100,395 lbs of potatoes for the House of Friendship’s Annual Potato Blitz! 17,500 lbs of the potatoes were donated directly, while the other 82,895 lbs comes from the  $8,289.47 in cash donations that will be used to buy potatoes year-round at a fixed low-rate.

Calvary United, Calvin Presbyterian, Christ Lutheran, Doon Presbyterian, Kitchener East Presbyterian, Knox Waterloo, Parkminster United, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian, and St. Louis Roman Catholic Church volunteers all spent their Saturday morning and afternoon at the entrances and exits of Food Basics Fairway Road, Waterloo Town Square’s Valu-Mart, Central Fresh Market, and various Sobeys, and Zehrs stores across KW.

Linda, Nicki, "Spuddy", Ed Ruppe, "Sweets" and John Neufeld. Missing: Chantelle

Some volunteers, like Ed Ruppe, his daughter, and his two granddaughters, made it a full day, family affair! Starting at 9:30 a.m, they stopped only for lunch, and were still going strong in their burlap sack dresses when “Spuddy” and “Sweet” came to visit them at Food Basics just before 3:00 p.m!

Elna Robertson spent the day at Sobeys Bridgeport with Parkminster United and told me in good humour, “Last year was my first year, and I didn’t think to have anyone around to cover a break or lunch. By two o’clock I was about ready to pass out.” Needless to say, she brought her husband of 51 years, Les, with her this time around, and planned for additional volunteers to arrive in intervals throughout the day. Other church groups, such as Calvin Presbyterian and St. Andrews Presbyterian, organized volunteer shifts from 9 a.m – 12p.m and 12 p.m – 3 p.m.

Elna and Les Robertson in their homemade Potato Blitz Tags

A small band of us led by “Spuddy” and “Sweet” were able to go around and see the volunteers hard at work at their respective locations. John Neufeld, Christine Rier, her son Colin, Michael Hackbusch, and myself, visited all but 1 of the 12 supermarkets, unfortunately arriving at Zehrs Pioneer Mall only minutes after the Doon Presbyterian volunteers had wrapped up for the day. Aside from this set back, we found those we visited in high spirits and unique get-ups. From green and white striped top hats, to handmade burlap vests (thank you Kingsdale Community Centre), to green plastic hats, and flowing burlap gowns, the Supermarket Blitzers made their mark and had many stories and smiles to share with us!

Samantha and Melanie at Zehrs Conestoga

We met veterans like Samantha- a grade eight student with three years experience and a fool-proof system: approach shoppers with potato bag already in hand, give a big smile and description of the cause, then place the potatoes into the obliging person’s shopping cart. Ta da, another donation secured!
How could anyone say no?

We also met Bob Schmidt and his team who were raking in the cash donations at the Northfield & Fisher-Hallman Sobeys, Ab Martin and company at Zehrs Glenridge, Barb “Captain” Chippier taking part in her 5th Blitz at Zehrs Stanley Park, and House of Friendship staff member extraordinaire, Shelley Holmes, with five other Knox Presbyterian volunteers in Valu-mart!

John Lambert as King Spud, and Doreen West peeking out from between the mascots.

Then there was King Spud himself, John Lambert, one of the Supermarket Blitz’s key coordinators, who has been volunteering, and wearing his royal attire, for the past 14 years. Customers of the Beechwood Zehrs were greeted with his tried and true: “Buy a bag of potatoes and we’ll gladly take them off your hands”.

So many volunteers helped at each location, and every one of them did a great job, at a hard job! Dave, from Calvin Presbyterian, confided in me that sometimes it’s tough asking strangers for cash donations or bags of potatoes: “Some people just walk by without even looking at you, you’re just another solicitor in their eyes and it’s hard to not take that personally.”
But, for every one person with their head down and eyes averted, there were half a dozen people willing to listen and/or donate whatever they could. In the end, volunteers would agree that the day was well worth it and a pleasure to be part of.

2,000lbs of potatoes collected before noon at Zehrs Beechwood

Steinmann Mennonite Church provided pick-up trucks and drivers to transport the 17, 500 lbs of potatoes to Steckle Heritage Homestead where they are now kindly being stored in an underground cellar.

Volunteer Driver, "Sweet" and Valerie Green, the Executive Director of Steckle Heritage Homestead

Great thanks goes out to Glenn Stewart for contacting and organizing with the churches and supermarket locations, John Lambert for also coordinating the event, Zehrs Markets, Sobeys, Valu-Mart, Food Basics, and Central Fresh Market and all the managers for allowing the temporary take over of their stores, Steinmann Mennonite for transporting the spuds, Steckle Heritage Homestead for providing storage space, the shoppers who donated at supermarkets across the region, and of course, thank you to all of the dedicated church volunteers who brought home the gold!


The Community Potato Lunch is just days away!

February 24, 2010

Throughout the past month people in our community have united for a common cause: potatoes. They have donated their time, money, and spuds and the House of Friendship is hosting a complimentary potato lunch to say thank you for all of the support and to celebrate as a community the success of the 2010 February Potato Blitz.

The free lunch will be held on Friday, February 26th, from 12 p.m to 1 p.m at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Kitchener. Donations will be gratefully accepted.

I spoke with Sandra (Food Services Coordinator) this morning, and got a sneak peek at some of the potato recipes her cooking team (Gwen, Walter, Kelly Daly, Mark and Claudia Francescutti and myself-so far) will be preparing on Friday morning:

-broccoli topped potatoes
-potato leek soup
-roasted red pepper soup

-potato cakes with salsa
-two kinds of chili-regular and vegetarian!

“Everyone works really hard to make the Potato Lunch a success- the cooks, the dining room people, and the clean-up crew. Also, if it weren’t for  Eby Village tenants there woudn’t be all the extras like veggie trays and buttered buns. Everyone’s out there on Friday in support and I’m just so glad because we couldn’t do it if we didn’t have the people that we do!”
-Sandra Wall,  HoF Food Services Coordinator

Kelly Daly from Home Depot & HoF Staff

 So come on out and enjoy the fruits of all that hard work !  We look forward to seeing anyone and everyone!

The dirt on potatoes

February 23, 2010

Did You Know?

-The potato became  the first food ever grown in outer space in 1995 on the Space Shuttle Columbia.

-Potatoes are the 4th most important crop in the world, following only corn, wheat, and rice.

-Potatoes produce more nutritious food more quickly, on less land, and in harsher climates than any other major crop.

-Potatoes are a versatile, cost-efficient, staple vegetable that pretty much everyone needs/wants. People all over the world eat potatoes, regardless of culture or background.

-Potatoes are rich in carbohydrates, which make them a good source of energy. They also contain vitamins and minerals that are vital to human nutrition.

– A single medium-sized potato contains about half the recommended daily intake of vitamin C and twice the amount of potassium as in one banana.

-The fiber content of a potato with skin is equivalent to that of many whole grain breads, pastas and cereals.

Why are potatoes so important to the House of Friendship?

In 2009, the House of Friendship used 24,000 lbs of potatoes to pack Christmas food hampers10,000 lbs in meals at the men’s hostel, and  in excess of 110,000 lbs of potatoes through the Emergency Food Hamper Program.

 According to Canada’s Food Guide, the average person should consume 7 servings of Vegetables and Fruit per day. At the Emergency Food Hamper Program, for example, potatoes play an integral role in providing patrons with their daily requirement of fruits and vegetables when they receive a food hamper. The chart below shows the  difference (on average) of having potatoes in a hamper for the daily vegetable servings based on the food guide recommendations.

  Number of days that an average HoF food hamper would meet Canada’s Food Guide vegetables and fruit recommendations
Household Size When Potatoes are Included When Potatoes are   Not Available
1 person 9.7 5.5
2 person 5.6 3.7
3 person 6.3 3.5
4 person 5.3 3.2

As you can see, if potatoes were not available for distribution in an average  emergency food hamper, there would be a significant decrease in the amount of vegetable servings available to individuals and families in need. It’s important to keep in mind however, that every day at the Emergency Food Hamper Program is very different depending upon the season, donations, demand, and other factors, which means that sometimes the serving amounts can be much higher, or much lower, than the averages presented above.

Whichever way you look at it, the humble potato is a healthy diet choice, and an important part of House of Friendship’s food assistance programs.


Ready,set,GO…to Supermarket Day this Saturday!

February 19, 2010

Just this week, on Tuesday, the HoF Emergency Food Hamper Program distributed more food hampers than ever before in its 60 year history. A total of 278 households, ranging from individuals to families of 6 or more, visited the 807 Guelph Street location for emergency food assistance the day after Monday’s holiday. Unfortunately, this high level of demand is not an isolated anomaly but rather, a sign of the times. This past year, the Emergency Food Hamper Program saw a 16.8 per cent increase in demand, distributing a record 33, 154 food hampers, with demand still steady into 2010.

Now, more than ever, House of Friendship programs need your donations. With  this in mind, you can help  by, you guessed it, donating potatoes! Yes! Potatoes!

In Potato Blitz spirit we asked patrons of the program how important receiving potatoes in their hamper was to them. Here are some of their responses:

HoF volunteer hamper packer moves past the potato bin. This bin must be re-filled repeatedly throughout an average day at the Emergency Food Hamper Program.

“I can eat [potatoes] every day. They are good protein, with lots of vitamins, carbs and energy. For me, they are filling, and not getting them in my hamper makes a big difference for me.”
-single male patron

“We don’t use the program often, but when we do, I always need the potatoes. They are something I get when I go grocery shopping. They go further than other items in the hamper-3 mashed potatoes are more filling that a box of KD.”
-mother of family of four

“I always, always, need potatoes. They’re very important, my hamper doesn’t last as long without them.”
-single female patron

“They are high in potassium which is really important for my body.”
-female patron with liver disease

Why not plan your grocery shopping (and donating) around the House of Friendship’s Supermarket Potato Blitz this weekend!

Tomorrow, Saturday February 20th, between 10:00am and 3:00 pm volunteers from nine local churches will be at the doors of supermarkets across KW collecting potatoes and donations in support of  House of Friendship programs, such as the Emergency Food Hamper Program.

Supermarket Blitz 2009 Zehrs Beechwood

So, please, stop by our Blitz! You can donate your potatoes and/or cash at any of these locations:

Central Fresh Market
Zehrs – Beechwood
Zehrs – Pioneer Mall
Zehr’s – Glenridge Mall
Zehrs – Conestoga Mall
Zehrs – Stanley Park Mall
Food Basics – Fairway Rd
Sobeys – Columbia
Sobeys – Highland Rd.
Sobeys – Bridgeport Rd.
Sobeys – Weber & Northfield

Also, if you can’t make it this weekend, donations can be made at the Emergency Food Hamper Program, 807 Guelph St., Kitchener, (Mon.- Fri., 9am-4pm), at the Charles Street Men’s Hostel, 63 Charles St., E., Kitchener (anytime) or mailed to House of Friendship, PO Box 1837, Kitchener N2G 4R3.

Food for thought: How important are potatoes in your diet?

Record breaking Don Cameron Potato Night

February 16, 2010

The voice of the Kitchener Rangers made the call and Kitchener Rangers fans answered!

Tony Bender and volunteer Doug Sullivan

This year’s Don Cameron Potato Night, held on Tuesday January 26th, brought in a combined total of more than 52, 000 lbs of potatoes- the most ever collected through the event! The combination of potatoes, cash donations and a 2,000 lb potato donation from Loblaw Companies Ltd. represents just over 30% of this year’s goal of 170, 000 lbs of potatoes! What a wonderful way to kick-off House of Friendships 15th Annual Potato Blitz!

Rangers Fan and Lori

“We asked Rangers fans to help feed our neighbours in need at an especially difficult time for many, and they responded with their hearts and their wallets…”
-Don Cameron

“…Rangers fans were filling the potato bins faster than we could empty them”
-Tony Bender, HoF Community Services Director

All this was made possible because of the Kitchener Rangers and their fans, Loblaw, media sponsors, House of Friendship’s volunteer crew and of course, Don Cameron.  As John Neufeld, our Executive Director, put it: “This truly was a team effort, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the results.”Thank you!

The Potato Night potatoes arrived at the Emergency Food Hamper program  on January 27th, and have been helping to feed local families in need of food assistance over the past few weeks.

Again, thank you everyone for your compassion, generosity, and amazing energy! If you were there,please share your experience. We’d love to hear from you just leave a comment below!

To learn more about the February Potato Blitz, or to get involved, please visit or contact either Tony Bender or Christine Rier at 519-742-8327.

Give me a P-O-T-A-T-O! Potato!!!

February 9, 2010

It is officially Potato Season! The annual February Potato Blitz is here and there’s no looking back. This little month is actually one of the most important of the year- it has the weight of 170, 000 lbs of potatoes riding on its shoulders! That’s because House of Friendship will use over 34 truck loads full of potatoes in its 18 programs this year, and we are hoping to collect all of it (cross your fingers) through the events being held this month.  

Not only will the potatoes collected during the Potato Blitz be used up well before they spoil (the Emergency Food Hamper program distributed 36,425 lbs of potatoes in the first three months of 2009 alone), but we will also be able to purchase potatoes year-round with the cash donations received. Thanks to a special partnership with a local farm we are able to purchase potatoes at a fixed low rate. This allows, for example, five dollars to be stretched to provide approximately 10 people with 5lbs of potatoes each.:)

I, myself, am looking forward to this year’s Potato Blitz, especially since it is my first! I’ve been the Social Service Intern since May and I’ve heard all about the February program from Tony and Christine, but it’s finally time for me to experience it first hand!

So far, they haven’t wasted any time with my initiation:  


Yup, that’s me in the bow tie…