Author Archive

Community Gardening

August 2, 2012

On Thursdays during the summer, I have been working all day at Sunnydale Community Centre. There are a number of things I regularly do here at this vibrant and joyful place.

Around 11:30am on Thursdays, Anton usually arrives with a big work van full of food that we have gotten donated to us from the Food Bank or Loblaws. The food is set on 2 tables out front of the Centre, and within minutes the area surrounding the Community Centre turns into a hopping marketplace. Residents from the community come to collect food for themselves and/or their family, never lacking in lots of chit chat and community-building.

Something else I was introduced to a few weeks ago was the Community Garden that is on the outskirts of the Community Centre property. Eight cultures are represented in this ten-plot garden. Families from Vietnam, Canada, Bangladesh, Lao, Russia, Ukraine, United States and Iraq all have plots to grow food that they enjoy and that is important to them. Residents share this food with one another, and also tend to each other’s plots from time to time. It is so fascinating! I love seeing the variety of cultural and ethnic foods growing locally and organically. I love how proud people are to share their culture in the form of food they can grow.

Learning about and seeing the community garden in bloom has made me curious to research and share information about the process of growing and maintaining a community garden. Here is some information I’ve found:

What is a community garden?

  • People come together to grow vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers
  • Run by churches, community agencies, clubs, neighbourhood associations

What are the benefits of a community garden?

  • Provides recreational gardening and activity for people
  • Provides fresh fruits and vegetables to individuals and families, some of whom may not regularly have access to such food
  • Reduces green house gases since the food is grown locally and not transported
  • Individuals of all cultures and ages can garden in a community garden; this reduces age and cultural barriers and allows people to learn from and share with each other
  • Educates people on how to grow and harvest foods that they enjoy to eat
  • Creates community among people with a common goal in mind

To learn more about community gardens, visit:

  • Community Garden Council of Waterloo Region

I have also been researching about different types of community gardens, and how to make a community garden more accessible to those with more restricted mobility. Stay tuned for a post devoted to barrier-free community gardening.

Closer to Home

June 14, 2012

As myself and a few others have written about in the past, the experience of providing food to patrons becomes much more personal the moment you are able to make a connection, perhaps recognizing yourself or people you know in patrons and their stories. This has been something that I have been continuing to learn and experience through my time working here at the Emergency Food Hamper Program (EFHP). However, earlier this week I experienced something that took this to a new level.

I received a message from two good friends of mine (let’s call them Mike and Jessica for the sake of this post), asking where someone could go to access emergency food. Upon talking with them more, I came to learn that a mutual friend of ours needs food assistance. Mike and Jessica were hoping to get some more information about the process of obtaining an emergency food hamper, in hopes that they could relay the information to our friend.

I can only imagine how anxiety-provoking it is for individuals who have never walked through our doors before to come for the first time; there are so many unknowns. Where do I go when I walk in the door? Will people judge me? Who will I talk to? Will they be friendly? Can I trust them? Will they ask me how much money I make? What if I’m not eligible? How will they know what I need? What if I need too much? Keeping in mind that it may be stressful for this friend of ours, I explained in detail the program and how it worked to Mike and Jessica, including details about what we’ll ask, where to wait, how the program works, and how to get here by car/bus. I knew that Mike and Jessica were going to relay the information to our friend, and then also accompany them to our warehouse to pick up a hamper for the first time. I figured it was the least I could do to try to make their experience in asking for help a bit less stressful.

After explaining all of this, the reality hit me that there is someone that I know who requires emergency food assistance. It made me sad to realize that, but also grateful that there are programs such as this, and friends like Jessica and Mike to walk alongside our friend as vulnerability is acknowledged. It opened my eyes to how unpredictable life’s measures of security (namely finances) are. In the blink of an eye, something could happen (as Melissa illustrated in this post) and the tables could easily be turned, so that it’s me on the other side of the counter. I have had glimpses of this reality before, but through this most recent experience it has become that much closer to home.

I am learning more than ever through my internship here at House of Friendship’s programs that life and its provisions are not to be taken for granted. I am grateful for what I have been blessed with and the situation that I am in, which is so different from many of the people with whom I interact. And I’m grateful, too, for this enlightening experience through which I realized more of how food insecurity and similar issues can literally affect anyone. I’m especially grateful for and find it an honour to extend the hand of friendship whenever and however I can.

One potato, two potato…

March 8, 2012

…three potato, four… five potato, six potato, seven potato… more! It is officially the beginning of March, which means that our annual February Potato Blitz here at House of Friendship has wrapped up its formal events. For most of February, the main office and many other HOF programs has been whirring with excitement and tasks to do in order to prepare for the three fundraising events that are held every year, during which people can donate either cash or potatoes to help us reach our 200,000 lb goal. The third and final event, the Community Potato Luncheon, was held February 24th at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church.

A few days before the event itself, Sandra (the head cook at the Charles Street Men’s Hostel) had begun talking with me about things that I could do to assist her on the day of the lunch. She had asked that I arrive at the Hostel at 8:20am on Friday morning, to help load up the cargo van with supplies and food. She had pre-warned me about the amount of things that we would bring from the Hostel; however, I don’t think I was expecting it to nearly be everything but the kitchen sink. There were pots, roasting pans, vegetables, nine pans of shepherd’s pie, napkins, potatoes for baking, potatoes for chopping, desserts and dessert trays, cream and sugar, aprons, tea towels…and that’s not likely even half of it. It was amazing to see how organized and thorough Sandra was in making sure we had everything we needed for the day. With the help of a few staff and a volunteer named Jeff who helped us throughout the day, the cargo van was loaded in minutes.

Then it was time to drive (carefully and slowly around corners, so as not to shift or spill the contents in the van) to the church. A few minutes later, Tony and I hopped out of the van and met a handful of people (hostel staff, Eby Village tenants and volunteers) to help unload the truck, and bring everything into the church’s kitchen.

As time quickly approached 9:00, volunteers came excitedly into the kitchen, ready to get to work. Hard-working and dedicated, Sandra had it down to a science, and literally had a job for everyone. Some volunteers immediately jumped into chopping vegetables, making vegetarian chili, cutting and buttering dinner rolls and filling water jugs to put into the cooler until it was time to put them on the tables. Others filled salt and pepper shakers, filled dessert trays, put table cloths on the tables before setting them and helped make soup. Volunteer Kelly Daly, who has made soup year after year for us, as well as his helper for the day – another woman named Sandra – spent the morning making delicious potato leek soup.

Bill, a volunteer who is dedicated to helping out at the potato lunch year after year, diligently peels potatoes to put in soup and other dishes. Thanks for your help, Bill!

Time seemed to fly by as we all pitched in to make the food for the event. There was light-hearted chattering and joking among everyone, happy to be working together again for another year’s potato lunch. At 11:30, Sandra gave us the okay to put water jugs on the tables, and soon after, mostly everything – except for the baked potatoes – was ready to be taken into the serving room. Around this same time our executive director, John Neufeld, entered the kitchen with his camera, snapping candid photos of the volunteers hard at work. We waited until the baked potatoes were finished and then the volunteers who were going to be serving food to our 170 guests began to man their stations.

Hungry and joyful guests were served food by volunteers at two different buffet-style tables, before these guests headed to their seats to enjoy their meal.

At the end of the lunch, John said a few words of thanks. Local churches, key volunteers for the potato blitz, the “Get ‘R Done Crew” (a few dedicated individuals who went around to the different supermarkets on the day of the Blitz to pick up hundreds of pounds of spuds), and many others were thanked. Another fun part which also happened at last year’s lunch was the 2nd annual “Soup Idol”. Eight contestants prepared soups which were tasted by a few judges, to see which one appealed most to their taste buds. After much deliberation, the Soup Idol trophy was given to one of our own staff here at House of Friendship: Alissa Attwood, from Kingsdale Community Centre. (Congratulations, Alissa!)

These four men made up the "Get 'R Done" crew, who, on the day of the Supermarket Blitz, collected potatoes. (Left to Right: Kelly Daly, John Lambert (aka "King Spud"), Glenn Stewart and Ed Ruppe). Thank you so much for your help!

It is also customary for an update to be given on how we are doing at reaching our goal of 200,000 lbs of potatoes. Before the lunch, we had the equivalent (in both cash and spuds) of 188,000 lbs. After the lunch, because of peoples’ generous donations upon arrival, we had raised the equivalent of about 203,000 lbs of spuds, allowing us to surpass our goal!

Thank you so much to all of our amazing volunteers (over 35 of you!) who helped with set up, food prep, money counting, serving, clean up, and many other jobs. And to our generous guests around the community. Thank you all for giving of yourself and your resources to help our neighbours and friends in need. We couldn’t have made this Potato Blitz a success and we would definitely not have raised 203,000 lbs of spuds without you!

Sweet Potato, who is one of our two Potato Blitz mascots, comes to greet and thank all of our satisfied and happy guests. Sweet's sidekick, Spuddy, took time to recuperate from his tiresome tours of the supermarkets during our supermarket blitz.

What hand were you dealt?

February 8, 2012

On Wednesday mornings, I head over to 174 King (aka 174), which is one of House of Friendship’s addiction programs. This program is a 6-8 month residential treatment facility for men who desire to overcome an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. There are approximately fifteen men who stay in the house at any given time, providing them with a supportive and substance-free environment to help them in their recovery. (more…)

Tuesdays, À la Social Service Intern

January 24, 2012

To continue with a bit of an inside scoop on my work as the Social Service Intern with House of Friendship, here is a post describing a typical Tuesday for me.

At 8:30am, I arrive at Eby Village, another one of House of Friendship’s programs. Built in 1990, this is an affordable, supportive housing program for single men and women. The tenants and staff work together to make Eby an amazing place of community. Here, I get the privilege of hanging out with the staff and tenants of the program, and working to support the tenants in different areas they may need support.

The staff at Eby Village are always joyful and fun to be around. The Eby office is always full of energy and laughs, while remaining a place for tenants to come to receive support. The two support workers, Walter and Ashley, work to support tenants in various areas. (more…)

A (Mon)day in the life…

January 2, 2012

As promised, this entry is the first in a series of posts to share with you a taste of what it is like to be the House of Friendship Social Service Intern. I thought I would break these entries into smaller posts by day, so as to not overwhelm you with too many stories. So, here you have it: a Monday in the life of the Social Service Intern.

I am generally at the Emergency Food Hamper Program all day on Mondays (as well as on Thursday mornings and all day on Fridays). When I first arrive at 8:30 in the morning, I am always greeted with a friendly hello from all of the staff and volunteers. For the first two and a half hours, I get to work with the other volunteers and staff who are working in the warehouse. Here, I do things like stock shelves full of items that we provide to patrons – anything from soup, yogurt and pasta to diapers, baby food and dog food. Or, I help bag potatoes or carrots into smaller bags that will be shared in the food hampers. It’s always interesting to see the variety of items that are donated to us, as we receive donations from the Food Bank of Waterloo Region, Loblaws, and individual donations from members of the community. I have found that since working in the warehouse, I have learned so much about food itself – such as what different types of exotic vegetables are used for, or when foods are good until. (For instance, did you know that yogurt is typically good for 14 days after its best-before date? Who knew?) There’s never a dull moment in the warehouse, and the staff and volunteers are always chipper and ready to serve others with joy.

Recently, I finished learning about our intake process and getting some more experience doing intake. We open our doors to the public at 11:00am, and at that time, I am helping at intake. After a while of working in intake to help with the morning rush, I move back and forth between intake and packing food hampers.

Intake involves sensitively welcoming patrons as they come and getting some basic information from them to pull up their files (see Matt’s post here).  I find this part of the job fascinating, for a number of reasons.  Something that I find myself reacting internally to is the diversity in the  ages of patrons who come to use the food hamper program, and the broad scope of life experiences  from which each one comes.

I’ve heard the saying “curiosity, rather than judgement” before. That string of words continues to play through my mind during my experiences here at hampers. Say, for example, there is a patron who may have already had 9 visits with us in a year instead of the “theoretical limit” of 6, and wants another hamper today. Suddenly, I have a choice in front of me. I can grow impatient and frustrated, wondering why this patron doesn’t seem to abide by our guidelines. Or, I can choose to act with grace and patience, perhaps remaining open to the different reasons why this person may be in more dire need for emergency food than just the six hampers a year can satisfy. I can gently explain to this patron how we can help today, and maybe ask more questions to determine what sorts of other resources he or she could access for food in the future.

Often, in asking for a patron’s birthday to pull up a file, I learn that there is a man or woman who is exactly, or near to, my age, or the same age as my siblings (as Mike had experienced, and written about here; or as Allison shared in this post). Suddenly, the person on the other side of the counter is no longer just the person on the other side of the counter. In our short interaction, I see myself in them. Or I see my best friend, or my twenty-year-old twin brothers. It really is amazing how personal it makes things, and how much it makes me appreciate how my life has turned out so far. It just so happens that I have enough money to live comfortably in an apartment with enough food to satisfy. It just so happens that life events have happened, for me, in such a way that I do not find myself wondering where my next meal will come from. But when I am looking at a woman on the other side of the counter who is around my age and who has three kids plus herself to support, I find myself overwhelmed. I realize again and again how easily my life could look different. How easily the tables could be turned. Because really, I require food as much as a patron who comes into our program does. We are both equals in life, in society and in our necessity of food. The only difference is the amount of available resources that each of us has.

These are just some of the experiences through which I am learning a great deal at House of Friendship. There is no doubt in my mind that I will continue to learn exponentially more through the rest of my time here.

A New Member of the (House of Friendship) Family

November 14, 2011

My name is Sarah Warren, and I am the new Social Service Intern with House of Friendship for the 2011/2012 year. I’m following in the footsteps of Allison and Emily, the previous interns who have posted here.  I started working with House of Friendship at the beginning of September and, 2 months in, I am loving it! I’m so excited and feel so privileged to be a part of extending a helping hand to those in need and seeing justice come in our community. As my first post on this blog, I wanted to introduce myself a bit, and perhaps provide a snapshot of what has led me to this point. (more…)