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Link 2 Feed And a Full Year of Food Assistance

May 10, 2016

“I am going through a transition period losing my job and applying for Second Career for a chance to change the course of my life. I’ve been on EI which will end soon and it’s extremely hard for me to make ends meet, and […] I can’t afford to buy any food, and was wondering where to go for some food hampers?”  “Sarah”

For someone like Sarah, the effort and planning and work that happens each day in our community to save and redistribute food is likely a bit of a mystery.  How it happens isn’t relevant.  That it happens is the most important thing.

As the economic restructuring and changes to the social safety net have unravelled over the last three decades (soon to be four!) communities have adapted and developed tools to help people and to help understand their stories.

A year ago, I wrote about Link 2 Feed, a new on-line database that the local  Food Assistance Network was adopting.  Well, a year later, we have a year worth of experiences and data to share.

Adventures In Data Entry

What is Link 2 Feed? The short version is that it is a cloud based database that by now, the majority of food assistance programs in this region, and an increasing number of similar programs in different parts of the province, have adopted.  Locally, it allows us to work off of one set of records, and for the first time, allows us to definitively understand how many people are turning to food banks to get through difficult times.

In the last 12 months we have actually found our daily service numbers easing off a little from an average in 2014 of 600 families and individuals each week to about 570 families and individuals.  This is a further decline of a weekly height of 700+ during the last major global recession.

Between March 2015 and February 2016, we shared 26,000+ food hampers with approximately 8100 households, made up of approximately 19,000 people.  That works out to an average of about 110 families and individuals getting some help from us each day, Monday to Friday.

Unfortunately for our fingers we had to type the names, birthdays, addresses and other demographic information of a significant number of those 19,000 people into the new Link 2 Feed database.  March and April 2015 were unpleasant and stressful for our clients because they had to wait while we did that, and for us, because it was constant typing and clicking and double checking what we had input.

Simplicity And Ease of Use…

I want to celebrate what a fantastic, wonderful giving community I’m so lucky to reside in. Today I struggle with trying to stay positive.  I’m here because of an addiction.  I just want to say thanks… “Frank”

A year later, things are fairly smooth and the majority of our case load has been incorporated into the system. Each month we meet a few hundred people needing to use food banks for the first time, or people returning from a long absence for one reason or another.

The initial pain of entering thousands of people into the system is past us and we can start to work on ways to make the system work for people like Frank, quoted above.

Link 2 Feed can help all of us working to share food to work together to identify who falls through the cracks of the existing network, begin to understand which parts of the network work with whom and how resources can move to the parts of the city that need more support. Most importantly it will allow the network to speak persuasively about the magnitude of the problem, and as I wrote recently, take measure of how well Food Banks are solving this problem.

So What Can Link 2 Feed Tell Us About Who The Emergency Food Hamper Program Served In The Last Year?

Most turn to us when they have no income, or are forced through circumstances to rely on Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program.  This is not unusual for a food hamper program like us.  This is more or less, the profile of the people who access food help anywhere in our province.

Sources of Income for the Households Served by the Emergency Food Hamper Program 2015-2016

“It’s Okay to Ask For Help…”

Most did not use us often, with a little more than half of the households only coming 1 or 2 times.  A very small group did require more assistance however, which again, is not unusual.  Typically the people who need to access our services more than average are physically isolated due to age and/or a chronic health conditions that creates a barrier to accessing other services in the region.

 

EFHP Number of Visits Per HH 2015-2016

The total number of times a household visited the Emergency Food Hamper Program between 2015-2016

I’ll Save Some For Other People Who Need It More… The Contradictions Of Food Distribution

Because of the limits of our program (supply, size, volunteers) we are not able to assist people on a monthly or ongoing basis, but when asked, people who need our help will typically describe a greater need than we are able to meet.  It is difficult to generalize because each person who comes through our door has their own story and idea about what we are going to be able to do for them.  It is not unusual for people to self limit what they are taking because they feel like they will be taking away from others if they take more.

I’m sure you have heard the expression “someone always has it worse than you do.” Usually, when I hear that sentiment it’s used to help someone get some perspective on a situation that isn’t that dire.  But, many of the people I have spoken to over the years have embraced the idea that there are people who are in greater need than they are even though they themselves are pretty close to the bottom.  Because of this they often think they should be very careful about taking what we have because with each additional thing they take, they are in effect taking it out of the hands of someone else.

This is often not necessarily the case, because in many instances, we have an abundance of some things and if someone takes more bananas when we have 5 pallets out of sight in our warehouse, they are doing everyone a favour.  They benefit from getting the produce, and we benefit by finding a home for the surplus items, saving them from landfill and eventual spoilage if we can’t get them into someone’s home in time.

What You Can Take Home

We are not as busy as we were in previous years when we were mired in a global recession, but every day, hundreds of people in our community face the reality of hunger. In the space of year we served food that supported more than 1 in 20 of the households of Kitchener and Waterloo.  Coming to us for help is not easy, and when many are here making choices about what to take, they are hesitant and careful.

Experiencing deprivation and making hard choices about basic things like food, rent and things that your family may need are never taken lightly.  The experience takes time and huge amounts of energy.  For many of the households we serve in a year, they do not come in more than six times but for 1 in 10 households we serve there are persistent barriers to accessing us, and a higher level of need.

In Kitchener-Waterloo approximately 6300 hampers are distributed each month by all of the organizations that help with food, House of Friendship included.  By making a donation of food you can help fill a part of one of those boxes.

One way you can do that is by helping The Food Bank of Waterloo Region.  They play a central role in keeping food flowing into the organizations that serve those 6300 hampers each month.  Between May 1 and June 4 they are part of a national month long campaign to ‘fill every plate’ this summer.  Make a donation, organize a food drive with friends, get creative and lead by example with #everyplatefull

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Celebrate Earth Day – Send a Kid To Camp

April 22, 2016

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On Earth Day (April 22) we are reminded that our planet is fragile. As we pause to take in its beauty we should also stand up and take action to protect our precious home!

To mark Earth Day why not plan for a day on the trails surrounded by nature? You can keep the nature appreciation going by joining us for a greener Trek 4 Kids 2 weeks later on the very same trails! Stay active and connected to your environment while helping send 100+ kids to week-long, overnight camp this summer!

Trek 4 Kids Hike and Bike is happening Saturday, May 7th, 2:00 p.m. Starting from the Thrift on Kent parking lot located at 50 Kent Avenue in Kitchener.

Trek 4 Kids supports House of Friendship’s Summer Camp Sponsorship program. We are asking for Trekkers to sign-up, collect pledges and then walk, run or bike the trail route (5 km., 9, km., 16 km., or 23 km depending on your interest). All of this effort makes camp possible for 100+ kids-at-risk this summer. Want to make it a fun family event? Come at 12:30 for a BBQ, bike rodeo and free bike tune-ups. (more…)

Volunteers Are The Roots Of Strong Communities

April 15, 2016

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Roots are important.

A place like Kitchener Waterloo has a history. Each person who lives here, and has lived here, has set down roots. They get tangled up and they hold us together.  They hold our history, and clues to what is important for all of us.

Tomorrow is the last day of Volunteer Appreciation Week.  Volunteers are one of the single greatest factors that help us achieve our goals at House of Friendship.  As

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Pat always has a smile and a joke to share.

Alissa from the Kingsdale Community Centre recently shared with us, “our community  is hugged by the faithful arms of volunteers, they are the hands and feet of the support we are able to provide to the community.”

Take Pat, for example, a volunteer at the Emergency Food Hamper Program.  She dedicates herself to making sure things are clean and tidy and lending a hand anywhere when needed.  She told me that, “volunteering is a great feeling. When I volunteer I know that I’m helping and I like to help people!”

She and over 70 other volunteers help each week to ensure people have something to eat in our community at the Food Hamper Program. Each day everywhere in House of Friendship and across the Region Pat and countless other volunteers like her get to work and leave a profound and lasting mark on our neighbourhoods. (more…)

$15 And Fairness Campaign – A Day Of Action Across Ontario Tomorrow!

April 14, 2016

Today I’m happy to share a message from Marjorie, a BSW student on placement with us, and a representative of 15 And Fairness.

Do you care about any of the following?

$15 minimum wage?
Paid sick days?
Equal pay for equal jobs?
Fairness in the workplace?
Employment Act that protects ALL workers?

Come and join 15 And Fairness on Friday for a day of action!

The Ontario government is going to make changes with or without you now is the time to let them know what you think is important!

Meet us at Victoria Park by the fountain entrance closest to the Charles Street Bus Station. We will meet at 11:30am get organized and then march to City Hall! Come have your say! 11:30am to 1:00pm – BE THERE AND HAVE YOUR SAY! (more…)

Sing The Song Of Your Heart And Trek 4 Kids!

April 13, 2016

Today‘s blog comes to you from the desk of Phil Martin, Trek 4 Kids Hike and Bike committee member and cycling enthusiast who is making week-long, overnight summer camp a reality for kids-at-risk!

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When I’m not on my bike, I’m introducing kids to the love of cycling through a school program I founded called Cycling Into The Future (CITF)! In schools across Waterloo Region I teach young people (and a few older ones) about cycling safety and etiquette by presenting the CITF program which includes hands (and feet)–on cycling experience! Many kids find that their world grows bigger when they take our course. They have more independence (I don’t have to rely so much on being driven everywhere), a growing sense of competence (I can fix a tire) and the great feeling of fresh air in their faces as they pedal off on new adventures. (more…)

Continuing Conversation About The Working Poor

March 29, 2016

The following is a repost of a piece that ran yesterday, in the Cambridge times, written by Marjorie, a BSW student on placement at House of Friendship.  It carries on the theme we explored in a few posts last year and raises some questions that the many people we meet each day struggle with.

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My name is Marjorie and I am a member of the working poor.

I have to thank Lisa Rutledge of the Cambridge Times for publishing her series of articles on the working poor last June.

This opened a dialogue which has persisted over time. I have been approached on the street, on the bus, at church, at work, by people who had read these articles, largely because my photo was featured in one of the articles.

I have, for some, become the face of the working poor.

Many wanted to discuss the issues. Many were experiencing the same problems, but others were surprised that I was dealing with these problems. It was not a visible problem to them.

There continues to be a misconception of just who the working poor are, and whether it is because of their behavior that they remain poor. Hopefully that misconception is being corrected due to articles such as the series done by Ms. Rutledge.

Now that the conversation has begun, where do we go now? How can we collectively improve the lot of the working poor.

It seems to me to be grossly unfair for a person to work full-time, to not be able to provide for their family in a meaningful way.

There is an argument for decent work, for decent wages. What would be a decent wage? (more…)

After 30 Years of Food Banking How Are We Doing?

February 5, 2016

We are rapidly closing in on the 1 year anniversary of adopting Link 2 Feed.  If you recall, we blogged about it last year and some of the implications of using it for the future.  Look forward to a bit of analysis next month as we consider a year worth of data and what insights we might gain from it about hunger in the region and how busy our program was.

Today I wanted to reflect on 2015 in general, which provides a nice opportunity to consider 30 years of food banks, basically, from their inception as a desperate measure to help out, to an established and complicated part of a very different society.

I want to narrow the focus down to the experience of the House of Friendship.  We have spoken in other posts about what food banks do, some alternatives and some implications of different ideas.  I want to sidestep that, and instead take a look at what emergency food assistance looks like for the us. (more…)

Keep Paying It Forward In 2016

January 11, 2016

Happy New Year everyone!

Now that the Holiday Season is behind us and everyone seems to be getting back into their usual weekly routines I wanted to share some words from some of our Emergency Food Hamper Program Volunteers, as a way to offer some encouragement to those of you who have decided that 2016 will be the year of getting involved in your community!

Why Volunteer?

Maybe you followed our #12daysforgood campaign and saw something in the daily themes that resonated with you, perhaps you have made a New Year’s resolution to do something and volunteer because you are grateful for support you have received at some point in your life.  There are a million different reasons, but one fact remains: volunteering has many benefits, not just for others, but also for yourself! (more…)

Crisis And Community Connection: Two Conversations

December 10, 2015
Children at the Sunnydale Community Centre can teach us all a lot

As a society, how can we follow the example of these children?

Last week, a young mother who is Syrian and Muslim, arrived at the Sunnydale Community Centre with her 3 year old daughter, visibly shaken.  On her drive here, she had stopped at a red light.  It was a beautiful day and so she had her car window open, as did other drivers.  She looked into the car next to her and was stunned when the man locked eyes with her and shouted “You terrorist!”  She quickly turned the corner and drove to the community centre.  We talked a long time, sharing her sadness and understanding her fear.

These are some words that were shared by Linda, who works at House of Friendship’s  Sunnydale Community Centre program.  Sunnydale is made up of people from all over our country, and from many places across the world.  Recently, many of us at House of Friendship were gathered together and the topic of conversation shifted to global events that are unfolding before all of us in the media each day.

We live in a connected world.  Decisions made by individuals or groups in distant corners of the earth can change our day to day lives in profound, unexpected ways.  They change our understanding of our place in the world, they stir our emotions, they inspire, frustrate and they terrify us in ways we cannot always fully comprehend.

How do we come to terms with our fear?  How do we stop spreading the hate and violence that occurs elsewhere and how do we open ourselves to helping those who have nowhere to turn? (more…)

The State of Food Insecurity: Hunger Count 2015

November 17, 2015

 

hungercount2015-singles-p3-normalToday, Food Banks Canada released the HungerCount 2015 report, which shows that 850,000 people access food banks each month. More than 300,000 of those helped are children. Here in Waterloo Region 1 in 20 households received food assistance. Half of these households are families with children.

The HungerCount offers stark evidence of the realities faced by far too many people in Canada: the reality that a job does not always guarantee food security; the reality that safe, quality housing is too often unaffordable; the reality that social assistance, disability and basic pension benefits are inadequate to support people who have fallen on hard times.

The volunteers and staff who run community food banks are proud of the work they do to help Canadians put enough food on the table. Nationally, the food bank network has adapted to changing times by increasing the variety of food available to the people it helps, and by providing services that go beyond the simple provision of food. The network today is radically different from what existed in the 1980s, when food banks first started opening their doors in Canada.

In Waterloo Region, we have a vital community Food Assistance Network of more than 100 programs anchored by two food banks: the Cambridge Self Help Food Bank and The Food Bank of Waterloo Region. By working together the network provides a respectful, warm environment where members of our community can receive the nutritious food they need. They can connect with programs that empower them to learn more about healthy eating, budgeting, food preparation and services to help find employment, counselling, affordable housing and other needs. (more…)


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