“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.
“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.
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