Author Archive

The changing face of food aid

June 3, 2013

Change is not an easy thing to face.

Sometimes changes are imposed from the outside, other times, you may feel that you are running in circles, achieving nothing and want to get out of the rut.  Maybe it’s time to go back to school, change your job, or just put a new coat of paint on things to brighten up your living room.  There are big changes, and not so big ones – but big or small, change is often hard for people and recognizing the need is rarely a straightforward job.

How do you know it’s time?

At our staff meetings at the Emergency Food Hamper Program, we sometimes find ourselves looking to the future of how we operate. We think about our impact as a program, and how our numbers have increased steadily since we first started giving out hampers. We think about the kind of community we’d like to be a part of. We talk about whether it would be better to have more warehouse space to give out more hampers, or more offices and a nice kitchen to help teach people food skills and increase the amount of anti-poverty advocacy we do.

At the House of Friendship, working with other organizations and people is a major part of our day.   We are always looking to volunteers, staff and community partners to help uncover a better community for all of us a little bit at a time. This is why places like the Stop, and its sister project, Community Food Centres Canada caught our eye—they offer a new way of seeing food aid, as more than simply emergency hampers. All across the province (and now the entire country) there are some fresh ideas developing and being nurtured by Community Food Centre’s Canada. They are trying to grow some change and set an example for how people can help communities build a better relationship to healthy food and advocate for a more just world.

What is a Community Food Centre? According to their website, it is:

“… a welcoming space where people come together to grow, cook, share and advocate for good food. CFCs provide people with emergency access to high-quality food in a dignified setting that doesn’t compromise their self-worth. People learn cooking and gardening skills there, and kids get their hands dirty in the garden and kitchen in ways that expand their tastebuds and help them make healthier food choices. Community members find their voices on the issues that matter to them, and people find friends and support. CFCs offer multifaceted, integrated and responsive programming in a shared space where food builds health, hope, skills and community.”

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The best way to deal with homelessness? How about giving people homes.

May 30, 2013

Here in KW, there is a man who everyone involved in the service sector seems to know. He used to tend to gravitate toward the downtown area, and was often the target of verbal and physical violence. People would call the ambulance or police for him regularly, sometimes several times a day for mental health or other reasons. Over a long period of time, people began to realize that contacting emergency services on such a regular basis was not helpful to this individual, and was also enormously expensive for being so ineffective.

hand and key

In the dominant model of dealing with homelessness, the person described above would be expected to get cleaned up and healthy before accessing housing and other supports. This model is often called the ‘treatment first’ model, under which people who are homeless spend time in emergency services accessing treatment before they are deemed suitable for their own independent housing. There is an alternative model though, which even exists here in KW, called the housing first model. It’s exactly what it sounds like—first get people dealing with homelessness a home of their own, and then support them in accessing support for issues such as mental health, addictions, employment (whether paid or volunteer), or social engagement.

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Volunteer Spotlight: Rolf W.

May 22, 2013

Rolf W.

Rolf has been volunteering packing hampers for just over 7 years now, and showing no signs of slowing down. He comes in every Monday and even though he works hard the whole time, somehow manages to finish the entire crossword puzzle in the break room without anyone noticing. It was great to sit down with one of our long time regular volunteers.

How did you hear about House of Friendship?

I heard about it through the YMCA, where I volunteered for a long time. A few people I knew from there were very involved with the House of Friendship, so I decided to give it a try.

What do you enjoy about volunteering at the EFHP?

I enjoy it very much—it gives me a sense of feeling I’m contributing in some small way to people who need help. I enjoy working with my fellow volunteers, they all have a great sense of humour. After volunteering here I feel a great sense of accomplishment.

What’s your favourite job at our program?

I like packing hampers, it keeps me busy. The quotas change all the time so it really keeps me on my toes. I like helping in other areas when it’s slow too, like packing meat. I enjoy that volunteering here is very hands on.

How has volunteering impacted your life?

I’m retired, so it’s given me an opportunity to get involved with people outside of sports and leisure.

Is there one experience of helping here that sticks out in your mind?

I remember once a young girl was by herself getting a hamper. She was in tears because she hadn’t been here before and she felt like she was taking advantage. I had to explain that our service is available to her for when she needs it, and I tried to encourage her. I’ll always remember that she left with a smile.

Are there any other programs that you are or have volunteered with?

I volunteered with the YMCA for 20 years at the front desk mostly. I was also on their advisory council.

What kind of activities or hobbies do you enjoy when you aren’t working or volunteering?

I love golfing and travelling to different countries. The best place I’ve been is Santorini in Greece. I also like doing crosswords and Sudoku. I’ve collected coins since I was 12 years old. At home my partner and I love hiking—we’ve done almost half of the Bruce Trail started in the Niagara area.

I appreciate Rolf taking the time to share a bit about himself and why he has been coming here for so long. It’s great that we have dedicated volunteers to make life a little bit easier for those who come in for food. Thanks Rolf!

Getting out of the business of food banks

May 21, 2013

Though sometimes when I’m working at the front desk it feels like a customer service job, we often remind ourselves here that we are not a business. When our numbers go up, it is not cause for celebration, but a time to reflect on the root causes of poverty in our community and why the amount of people who need food assistance increases every year. We are constantly looking at new ideas that could eliminate poverty, and one of those is to simply give people the money they need to live a healthy and fulfilling life. As a solution it might seem overly simple, but it really could work. As we’ve discussed here many times, when people have an adequate income money is saved elsewhere in social systems.

Today’s post is a guest blog, written by Sean Geobey, on the topic of eliminating poverty—and eliminating food banks–by giving people adequate income. Sean is a PhD Candidate in Environment and Resource Studies at the University of Waterloo and a graduate fellow with the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience. His research focuses on social finance and its role in creating social innovation.

A food hamper from a few years ago for a family of three.

A food hamper from a few years ago for a family of three.

I am fortunate enough that I don’t rely on a food bank for my meals. I go to a grocery store near my home to pick up a few bags of fresh veggies, milk and meat when I’m running low. The hours are always convenient, and I can choose the right mix of food for my needs over the next few days.

Although I rarely think about it, having this freedom means a lot to me. It means that I can schedule my food around my work, social and family life. It means that I’m entrusted with the choice of setting my own priorities about what I put in my body. It means dignity.

Having a basic income that provides everyone in our community with enough money to meet their basic needs would extend this dignity to everyone. A basic income is a guaranteed minimum level of income support that everyone would receive. It would not be means-tested, eliminating the need for intrusive, demeaning and punitive interventions by social workers. The idea of a basic income has historically received support from across the political spectrum, including those on the right like Milton Friedman, Robert Stanfield and Hugh Segal to those on the political left like Martin Luther King Jr. and Ed Broadbent.

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A plot of our own

May 14, 2013
Dan tilling the garden with a rototiller on loan from the Working Centre

Dan tilling the garden with a rototiller on loan from the Working Centre

Inspired by the fantastic weather and by other gardens popping up around town, yesterday 807 staff and volunteers got our own garden ready for the year! We took plots we’ve gardened in the past but have grown a bit neglected and made them over into ready-to-plant beauties.

Matt and Raymond shovelling manure to work into the soil

Matt and Raymond shoveling manure to work into the soil

Since the gardens are shaped oddly, they aren’t really conducive to individual plots. Plus, it’s hard to grow many vegetables because we have a groundhog living right next to the garden who loves eating fresh vegetables.  Instead of planting vegetables, we are thinking of putting in nice perennials and herbs for everyone to share. The idea would be that everyone in the area can come by and snip a few herbs for their dinner. We’d have some markers indicating which herbs are which, and a display inside explaining good uses for them.

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What I’ve learned in a year at the Food Hamper Program

May 10, 2013

After almost exactly a year of working here, today is my last day at the Food Hamper Program. I am sad to leave the staff and volunteers here as I’ve formed some great friendships and learned a lot about the KW community, but I’m looking forward to new adventures, including travelling this summer and going back to school in September.

building_outside

I’ve learned a lot in the year that I’ve been here. Here are some things I’ll take away from my time.

There is no one kind of person who needs food assistance

I’ve learned that there is no one kind of person that comes to a food bank—there is a huge diversity of people who need food assistance, and they have taken many paths to get here. Many people face barriers to finding work and thus having an adequate income due to discrimination. Perhaps they identify as transgender, are a recent immigrant or refugee, or have a disability. I’ve learned that no one is on social assistance because they’re simply ‘lazy,’ but that there are a multitude of reasons people live in poverty, ranging from the kinds of jobs available to a lack of affordable childcare to health problems. Each person has their own story of why they are at the food hamper program.

The way we treat people living on low income needs to change…now.

I’ve learned that the way social assistance is set up helps no one, and a dollar added to social assistance is more than a dollar saved in other areas. I’ve learned that poverty and health are so closely intertwined that I’m not sure you can talk about one without talking about the other.  Most importantly to me, I’ve learned that eliminating poverty is the logical thing to do, not only from an ethical but from an economic standpoint. It makes far more sense to give people an adequate income and save money elsewhere in the system, especially in the health care and justice sectors. I have hope that others think this way. Though there is a long road ahead when it comes to poverty elimination, there are a lot of dedicated people making very good cases as to why poverty should be a priority for all levels of government moving forward.

I’ve learned all about foods I never knew existed

We receive all kinds of food donations. Before working here I had never seen chayote squash, bitter melon, chinese long beans, or lychee fruit. Now I could tell you what their main nutritional qualities are and how to cook them!

I am disappointed to leave the House of Friendship because it’s an organization I believe in. I’m proud of that the organization has decided to speak up on important issues, and advocate for a more just society. I decided to work here in the first place because, though I don’t believe food aid should have to exist, the program’s philosophy was in line with my own. I believe people coming in for food aid should not be policed, or asked invasive questions about their household finances. I’ve been lucky to be able to visit other House of Friendship programs and learn about the community building and advocacy that goes on at our community centres and residential programs as well.

I’ve been so privileged in the past year to work with dedicated staff and volunteers who believe in the program like I do, and who are working every day to create the kind of community they want to be a part of. I’ll miss it here.

Volunteer Spotlight: Betty

May 8, 2013

Betty

Betty is one of our regular Monday volunteers, along with her husband John. For them, volunteering here is a family affair—their son Matt is the volunteer coordinator, and their daughter Bethany used to work at intake. Betty is clearly dedicated to the work we do here. You can find her doing whatever is needed, either getting her hands dirty sorting donations that come in or packing hampers. She also has great friendships with fellow volunteers—one week she hears someone say they like lasagne, and the next week she brought in a whole lasagne for everyone to share!  I managed to tear her away from sorting bread to sit down and ask her a few questions.

How did you hear about House of Friendship?

I heard about it through my son Matt, the volunteer coordinator at the food hamper program. One of my friends also used to live in Sunnydale and she told me all about the community centre there and the House of Friendship.

What do you enjoy about volunteering at the EFHP?

It makes me feel good to help people, and I enjoy working with the other volunteers. Everyone here is kind of like family.

What’s your favourite job at our program?

I like sorting through food orders we get from Loblaw’s, I like doing it all. Here we took a break to laugh about what we call the yogurt test—when we get tubs of yogurt in our Loblaw’s order many didn’t survive the trip. To see whether or not they’re ok, you have to squeeze them. If they’re fine then you stay clean, otherwise you could get covered in yogurt!

How has volunteering impacted your life?

I look forward to Mondays! It’s fun—I even come by on other days if Matt needs some extra help. I feel like I’m helping people when I’m here.

Is there one experience you’ve had here that you remember?

It really affects me if it’s someone’s first hamper—I’ve had experiences with men and women where they cry when they come in. It really touches me. I usually give them a hug and try to give some words of encouragement.

Are there any other programs that you are or have volunteered with?

I used to volunteer with Live and Learn at the House of Friendship, with mom’s and young kids. I used to babysit full time, now I only do two days per week, but I love working with children. I also volunteer with our kids program and Sunday school at church.

What kind of activities or hobbies do you enjoy when you aren’t working or volunteering?

I love doing jigsaw puzzles, sewing, and cooking. I cook for the people who run our kids program at church once per week! I also sing in the Laurier choir with my sisters, that’s just something I do for me.

We’re glad that Betty makes time in her schedule to volunteer here, along with all the other things she’s involved with. She’s a big help because she enjoys doing so many different things. Thanks, Betty, for including all of us at food hampers in your extended family!

National Volunteer Week: how far have we walked together?

April 26, 2013

Imagine you are sitting in your family room watching your favorite show on TV.  It’s the commercial break, and your stomach rumbles.  It’s been a long day at work and you’re tired.  Is it worth it to walk all the way to the Kitchen and fix yourself a snack?  We’ve all been in the state where your will and motivation to get up and get moving is definitely lacking.  Sometimes it’s hard to fight the inertia of exhaustion.

Do you have a child?  If so, you’ve probably found yourself in that horrible situation where you’ve gone for a walk, and their favorite stuffed animal, which was clutched tightly in their arms at the start of the journey, has somehow been left behind along the path.  I’m sure you’ve spent many a frantic moment at the grocery store looking for your child’s favorite stuffed animal that they simply would not leave at home.  How far would you go to find something for someone you love like your child?

When your little one grows up will they remember you going the extra mile? Probably they will later in life, if they have children of their own and they’ll understand how you would gladly go an extra 1000 miles for your family in a heart-beat.

Now, how many miles would you walk, metaphorically or otherwise for a stranger?

Last year, our volunteers packed over 33,000 hampers for families in need. Now that is a lot of food assistance going out on a daily basis. A while back at the food hamper program, a few of us were trying to think of ways to help people wrap their heads around how many hampers 33,000 really is.  As we’ve written about in the past, understanding big numbers can be difficult. How can we possibly communicate to volunteers how much work they’ve done as a team, especially during National Volunteer Week?

A picture is worth a thousand words, as they say, and one way we thought of to help us share the significant amount of work our volunteers accomplish was a simple racetrack, on which a mascot (chosen by popular vote) would race around. So how does this work? Well every time someone packs a hamper here, they walk in a circle around some central shelves and tables, shaped like a race track. The starting line is the meat freezers, and once they get in motion, they go on to potatoes, vegetables, soup, pasta, race past the tomato sauce, fruit, peanut butter, rice, beans, baby items, bread, then coolers stocked with milk, yogurt, juice, and extra items. The finish line is crossed once they get to the window where they pass the hamper off to the family who is receiving it. We measured how far a walk (or run) it is from the beginning of the circuit to the end, and it measures approximately 20 metres. When you multiply 20 metres by how many hampers we pack, our volunteers have traveled a long distances to get food to complete strangers!

The hamper racetrack hanging in our warehouse. As the apple moves around the track, it means we've packed more hampers and walked a longer distance.

The hamper racetrack hanging in our warehouse. As the apple moves around the track, it means we’ve packed more hampers and walked a longer distance.

At first, I didn’t realize just how far we have gone together, but then we did the math. When we’ve packed 5000 hampers, that is the equivalent of 100 kilometers. When we’ve packed 5700 hampers, that is the equivalent of 114 kilometers, or the distance from our program at 807 Guelph Street to Queen’s Park in Toronto – a feat which we had already accomplished by mid-February of this year. After 23 900 hampers, we will have packed so many that between all of volunteers they will have walked the equivalent of here to Parliament Hill in Ottawa (we will likely have covered this ground by the end of the summer or beginning of the fall).

As volunteers pack more hampers, we multiply the hampers by the amount of distance walked per hamper. To help volunteers understand the impact each day volunteering with us has, we then move our little mascot, Amos the Apple, around the track to mark how far we’ve walked. The racetrack is a visual representation of how hard volunteers work together. Every year, when put together, we walk over 600 kilometers together. For me, the racetrack is also a reminder of how many families in our community need food assistance, and that there is still a long way to go before we eradicate poverty and achieve food security for everyone.

Thanks to our incredible volunteers who walk with us and our program participants each day, and who go farther than they realize.

Volunteer Spotlight: Ken

April 24, 2013

Ken

Ken is one of our regular Monday volunteers. He comes in at 8am and stays until the truck is unloaded and the work is done—and he’s done this for almost 13 years! You can always tell when he’s in the warehouse if you listen for whistling or singing—Ken has a song for just about every situation. Mention your favourite herb and he’ll start singing Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair.” Talk about your friend named Layla and he’ll sing the chorus of Eric Clapton’s song by the same name. He has a great attitude when he’s here and some great friendships with other Monday volunteers, so it was nice to get to know a little more about Ken.

How did you hear about House of Friendship?

I  think I learned about it through church, but I’ve just known about it for a long time. When I retired I knew I should give back to the community and they hired me. Helping people with food is near and dear to my heart, it’s great outreach.

What do you enjoy about volunteering at the EFHP?

I enjoy the people I work with here, even Bob! Just kidding, Bob is one of the reasons I show up here. I have great friendships.

What’s your favourite job at our program?

Coffee break! Just kidding. I like unloading and stocking shelves, or helping wherever I’m needed. Packing hampers just isn’t my thing so I help out elsewhere.

How has volunteering impacted your life?

It provided structure in my life when I first retired, and it’s continued to provide structure. It’s also part of what we do as a church community, it’s just part of our ministry. Before I retired I was a teacher and an educational consultant.

Are there any other programs that you are or have volunteered with?

I volunteer with church as well, right now I sit on the hospitality committee.

What kind of activities or hobbies do you enjoy when you aren’t working or volunteering?

I’m in a hiking group with friends. We’ve hiked the whole Bruce Trail six and a half times, and have covered over 8000 kilometres together. We go all day every Wednesday. We always try to learn something about the nature along the trail. I’m an elections junkie too—I work for elections Canada and elections Ontario.

We’re glad you’ve chosen to keep coming to volunteer here as part of your weekly routine, Ken! Thanks for taking the time to share a little more about you.

National Volunteer Week: how our volunteers build community

April 22, 2013

“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” –Marjorie Moore

Marge and Mark take a quick break from packing hampers in the warehouse.

Marge and Mark take a quick break from packing hampers in the warehouse.

This week is National Volunteer Week, and for a program like ours that relies on volunteers to run at all, it’s a pretty special one. A few weeks ago when I was looking for inspiration for volunteer week, I came across the quote above, by Marjorie Moore. As a self-admitted political junkie, I love the quote, and I love the idea that people can work together to create a place where they feel at home. Our volunteers come in every week (or in some cases, every day!) for their shifts—so what keeps them coming back? I think what draws volunteers in is that they feel a connection to and a passion for the vision of the House of Friendship: creating healthy communities where all can belong and thrive. So, what does that kind of community look like, and what values are volunteers voting for with their hours here? I have a few ideas.

A community that believes in the right to food

The first thing I see volunteers ‘voting’ for is a community where everyone has a right to food. Everyone here is passionate about feeding people, and about creating healthy hampers. When we don’t have fresh veggies to put into hampers for people I hear volunteers lamenting the fact that the hampers aren’t as healthy as usual. White bread is always left to the end, and whole wheat goes into hampers first.

Ursula bags up some mushrooms for hampers.

Ursula bags up some mushrooms for hampers.

Volunteers like Val are excited about ‘selling’ produce people may not know how to cook, like cabbage, turnip, or papaya. They recognize that if you live on low income it can be hard to afford healthy items, and they want to give people nourishing food their family will enjoy. Every day I see excited volunteers going through recipes with people getting food, even writing down tips to send along with them. Volunteers like volunteering here because they are drawn to food issues in some capacity. Like our volunteer Sherry said, “I volunteer here because I like helping people with their food.”

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