Author Archive

Gardens Grow With a Little Help From Friends

April 20, 2015

House of Friendship Gardeners Get Ready for the 2015 Growing Season

In a sunny room at Charles Village, members of the Supportive Housing garden team gather amongst seed packets and pots of soil. They are getting their hands dirty starting seedlings and going over last year’s efforts in the gardens that have sprouted up around the Supportive Housing buildings: Eby Village, Charles Village and Cramer House, as well as at the Charles Street Men’s Hostel.

“I learned a lot about myself last year in the garden,” says one resident. “I’m excited to be a part of it again.”

Scenes like this are common for the garden team, as they work together to plan, plant, nurture and harvest garden beds and perennial flowers throughout the season.

Would you like to help out this season?

Today marks the beginning of the garden season at the House of Friendship and on our blog and social media! Our Supportive Housing programs, Community Centres and the Emergency Food Hamper Program need your help and your green thumbs now that we have cast off the cold and the ice of winter and are looking ahead to the growing season. Each day this week we will share a little bit about our past efforts and hopes for the coming season.

Why is it important to support these creative gardening efforts? (more…)

Hunger Count 2015: A Local Preview

April 14, 2015

There, but for the grace of God, go I

Much to my mother’s chagrin, I can never remember how to ‘properly’ set a table and where to place forks and knives and all the assorted meal consumption equipment.

from elegantwoman.org

This, from elegantwoman.org is still no help

Now that I am older, I have a number of toddling children to coordinate and shepherd to the table, and as a result everything gets placed on the table in a largely haphazard manner.  Being young children, much of everything on their plates, including the plates themselves, ends up on the floor. I clean up the mess while my partner gives them a bath and attempts to persuade them not to give a repeat performance with the bath water.

That’s one cheery picture of family meal time, but many different scenarios play out every day around tables in every community great and small in Canada.  Often, not so cheery.

How do you set a table for 5500?

For a long time now, March is the month when Food Banks carry out the Hunger Count and share their service numbers with their respective provincial bodies, who in turn share them with the national network, headed up by Food Banks Canada.  This March was no different, and later in the year, both bodies will publish a formal report highlighting the state of food insecurity in this country based on this reporting.

What does this have to do with table etiquette?

Well, this March we gave out 2561 food hampers to around 2294 households, or 5515 people, including 757 children five years or younger.

So while many of us were passing the butter or the milk or whatever else was needed at the other side of the dinner table, every day in our community about 250 people were fretting about how to split a box of free food.  Some did not have enough to go around and skipped meals, some restricted access to different foods or compromised with cheaper items, others limited portion sizes, or used a variety of other coping strategies.  (See the dietitians of Canada for a more comprehensive discussion on pages six and seven.)

Yes, we were able to share food with a lot of people, but March is a good example of the strengths and weaknesses of programs like ours.

Not enough free food, is still not enough food

So, take two people that we served last month, I’ll call them Raul and Cody for the simple reason that those are not their names and they want to remain anonymous.

Raul and his wife came in and filled out the food list we have. They also spent a couple minutes whispering between themselves, trying to figure out how to spell ‘thank you,’ in their second language, along with some of the other needs they had that day.

Next is Cody, who has some serious food restrictions because of medical conditions, which is another way of saying, because of how his body works.  Human biology is pretty complex, and while it usually gets along fine, lots of people get pretty uncomfortable when they eat the wrong things. Cody has a combination of food sensitivities and health issues.  His choices are therefore massively constrained.

So how well were we able to meet the needs of these two different families?

Our program allocates food that people require for their survival.  It would be nice if it was otherwise, but today it is not, and this introduces many difficult negotiations into our daily work.

Annotated food slips

Annotated food slips

To figure out who gets what, we use a quota system. This is our attempt at fairness, and it’s not perfect. Essentially, it helps us manage what we have so we don’t totally run out half way through a day, or week and shut our doors to the public.

We start each day with a more or less known quantity of food, but we do not know the number of people we will serve.  We have a rough idea, but cannot tailor our supply to everyone, or even those who need it the most because we don’t know they’re coming, or in what number.  We may run out of different things, we may need to restrict access based on family size, and we may not have the items you really need if you have a restrictive diet.

March was difficult because, while we did have some nice things (whole coconuts, plantains, pluots, apples, mangos and papaya) we didn’t have them the entire month. Some days we had no fresh vegetables and/or fruit and had to restrict quantities vigorously most of the time because demand outstripped supply.

Did I say something wrong?

So, you may have come in March and wondered if some sort of mistake happened once you got your box home and started trying to figure out what to do with the items.  Most of the weeks, we did not have a lot to fill the boxes.  Looking back on previous experiences here, you may have wondered why today you only received a quarter of what had been there in a previous visit.

So, we were able to share something with Cody and Raul, with help from volunteers, a generous community and a lot of planning and effort, but ultimately, they left our warehouse with many of their requests unmet, for the simple reason that we just didn’t have the items they were looking for.

Real solutions

There will be a good deal of virtual and real ink spilled once the final “Hunger Count Report” is issued later this year, but the solutions can be summarized simply in this way:

Make housing affordable for people on a fixed income, rebuild our social safety net so that no one must choose between staying warm and eating real food, support children and their families (because children aren’t poor, families are) and support job retraining and skills development for those who have the biggest barriers to entering the workforce.

The next time you set a place at your dinner table, consider this last March and families like Raul’s and Cody’s.  It’ll give you something to talk about while you pass the mashed potatoes.

Working Together For Community

April 8, 2015

Reading our volunteer profiles, you may get a sense of the diversity of experience that makes House of Friendship an interesting organization to be a part of.  Today I would like to share the first part of an ongoing series where we share about what inspires and drives the people who work at House of Friendship. Here is Michael Hackbusch.

 

Michael

 

Where do you work and what do you do?
As Chaplaincy Director my office is currently at the Charles Street Men’s Hostel but I work in the community: advocacy group, teaching students, preaching at local churches, interfaith partnerships, HOF event promoter, pastoral care, Leadership Team, Spirituality group leader with addictions programs. The work is certainly diverse but always returns to the basic task of promoting HOF’s vision of a healthy community where all can belong and thrive. (more…)

Who Represents Hunger, Part 3

April 1, 2015
Who represents the most food insecure households in kitchener waterloo?

Which local politicians represent the most food insecure households?

If you have been elected to political office, you have a big job.  You have to listen to your constituents, provide leadership, help a lot of people and try and invest in the neighbourhoods and businesses that make up your district.  All the while, you are also working with your political neighbours, reacting to events both big and small and trying to do the “right thing” by different constituencies, some of which, have conflicting views of the world.

People who struggle with poverty and live on a low income are one of these interests, and traditionally, they do not have a respected place in public discussions.  There are groups that advocate for and with them, but in talking about the issues, there are not always good numbers to use to describe the scale or impact of certain social problems.

Take hunger or food insecurity for example.  As I discussed in my previous post in this series, the number of people using food banks is hard to pin down.  It may be getting a little easier in Ontario, as I discussed in a recent post about Link 2 Feed, but if we want to talk to elected representatives locally about the number of people they represent that currently struggle to get food on their tables, it has been difficult, because those numbers haven’t really existed.

(more…)

Who Represents Hunger, Part 2

March 26, 2015
Demand for help is all over the Map and the House of Friendship Food Hamper Program

Heat map of household demand for food from the House of Friendship Emergency Food Hamper Program.

 

Hunger is all over the map.

In every city in Canada, people talk about some neighbourhoods as ‘better off’ than others. Though it can be tricky to specify what exactly ‘better off’ means (higher incomes? more walkable? lower property taxes?), we do seem to share some unconscious understandings about ‘better’ and ‘worse’ off neighbourhoods. However, these unconscious understandings do not often reflect reality. For example, when we mapped the addresses of all the families using our service in 2014 a striking point became clear: hunger is everywhere.

In every urban area in Canada some areas are ‘better off’ than others.  When we look closer at our records, certain neighbourhoods stand out very clearly, but as you can see, every part of Kitchener and Waterloo had someone who received service from us, at least once.  The darker, and redder the colour on the map, the more people that lived in that area needed to turn to us.  In my previous post, I discussed what people have shared about themselves with us, here at the Food Hamper Program.

(more…)

Who Represents Hunger? Part 1

March 18, 2015

For many people this door is their first experience with the House of Friendship Emergency Food Hamper ProgramToday it is snowing and you are waiting outside of a warehouse.

There are a number of other people beside you, shifting from one foot to the other, trying to stay warm.  A few people are chatting quietly, plumes of white billowing out in the cold morning air, but mostly everyone is pretty quiet. You feel a bit tense, and sense the same in those around you.  At 11 a.m. the door opens and you shuffle into a lobby with everyone else and begin to form two lines.  You’re eyes have to adjust for a few seconds, and you have to wipe the fog off your glasses.  You get into the line with the people who have not phoned prior to coming. You’re going to have to wait a little bit longer now.  You feel in your pocket for your wallet, wondering what kind of ID you are going to need to show.

You are at a food bank, you’re warming up a bit, but who are you exactly? (more…)

Link2Feed And The Technology of Food Assistance

February 25, 2015
Photo via Flickr

Photo via Flickr

Imagine you are sitting in a boat, going down a river. It’s a fairly wide river, it’s a nice day, you’re enjoying yourself.

Suddenly, there is a loud thump under your feet. The boat shakes and you land in the bottom of the boat. You weren’t paying attention to what was happening, you were lost in a daydream, enjoying the moment. But now, you’re confused and covered in water, because all of a sudden there is a hole in the bottom of the boat and you are taking on water. A lot of water.

What do you do? (more…)

In The Middle of Things: Reflections on Becoming a Social Worker

January 5, 2015

Today, I am pleased to share a guest blog from Michael Hackbusch, and two of the BSW students we have on placement at the Food Hamper Program, the Sunnydale Community Centre and the Courtland Shelley community Centre.

House of Friendship believes strongly in housing as a right

My name is Michael Hackbusch, and at House of Friendship (HOF) I have the task (privilege, really), of providing practicum supervision to burgeoning social work students. These students are in the Bachelor and Master of Social Work programs and come mostly from Renison University College at the University of Waterloo but also Wilfrid Laurier University, the University of Windsor and, this year, Carleton University.

We appreciate the partnership with the students on placement at HOF for causing us to reflect on our own practices, and to make explicit those things we assume are known. Further, by this act of mindfulness, we individually pay attention to our own reasons for serving through House of Friendship, how our service is needed, and why. They also give us cause to reflect on conversations we might have with our neighbours about systemic problems, which are often the reason for House of Friendship programs.

To that end, I posed a number of questions to two of our current practicum students, Lindsay and Dannika. Their answers reflect the students’ understanding of social work before and during their placement; how they have been challenged by both the program but also the people served; how they find a balance between classroom and practicum; and what advice they would offer to anyone considering a career in social work. Finally, I asked them what they know now, that they wish they had known months ago? (more…)

You Are Only One Google Search Away…

December 25, 2014
There is a global need for help - The House of Friendship of Kitchener sees many international connections

via Flickr

“I was claiming income support as I live in a hostel and am only 17, but they stopped it 3 weeks ago and I have no food left and as it’s so close to Christmas I’m starting to panic, is there any way you can help me please?”

The world is a big place but connected in surprising ways.

We receive many calls (or e-mails) for help, especially during the holiday season. Because of the global reach of the internet, some of those inquiries come from people who do not realize that we are -literally- on the other side of the planet.

The young person I’m quoting above emailed us from Europe.  This year I also received emails from as far away as Australia, and, within Canada, from British Columbia.

Thanks to the power of the internet, I am often able to quickly find a place to refer someone back to in their own community.  A place they no doubt overlooked in their frantic struggle to find food and other help, because, as we know from our work in this community each day, food is often the last of many needs that people struggle to meet.

So as we reflect back on the experience of Christmas Hampers and our year of work, meeting people from our community who had no food, it is sobering to remember that this small part of the world is not alone in its struggle to build a community where all can belong and thrive.

There is still much to do in 2015.

 

807 Recipes From Our Community

December 5, 2014

Emergency Food Hamper Program House of Friendship via Wordle

Today I am happy to share a collaborative project that the staff and volunteers of the Emergency Food Hamper Program put together to celebrate their work and their common interest in food.

It is a short cookbook of favourite recipes, and recipes from some of our friends.

We hope you enjoy it!

In the comments feel free to share some of your favourite recipes!  We are always looking for a new way to incorporate a new ingredient into our weekly menus at home or try something completely new!

To download the .pdf copy of the book, click on this link here: 807 Recipes from Community


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