Author Archive

The Leaders of Tomorrow – the Girls in Your Community

May 12, 2014

Joe Cramer at Kingsdale Community Centre House of Friendship Girls Leadership Group

Teamwork, friendship, energy, laughter and learning together – these are the words that stand out to me after attending the Girls Leadership Group at the Kingsdale Community Centre.

Despite the fact that I was a stranger to the group, the girls were very friendly and eager to include me into all the activities of the evening. After brief introductions and everyone taking turns sharing recent personal events or reflections, the girls set to work making a cucumber mango salad and a berry yogurt smoothie. Working together, the girls supported each other, asking one another questions along the way (like what is a mango?), and checking in with the group leader, Tracy, for help along the way. When finished, they sat down to enjoy their snack and work on a craft before cleaning up for the night.

“I tell my parents and my family what we do each week. I wish I could do this everyday!”

In a time where many adolescent girls struggle to establish who they are and what they believe, The Girls Leadership Group helps put together the pieces in facilitating their self learning and discovery. It’s a great approach to encourage girls to get involved in their local community, to prepare them for the years ahead, and to develop lasting friendships.

The Leadership Group is one of the many groups coordinated by the community centre, which has been running for approximately three years with funding from the United Way. Within each 13-week session there is a focus on helping young girls, aged 11 to 14, become strong leaders and self-advocates to achieving their dreams, and to work on making an impact on the world around them. Each week young women meet to share in new experiences, learn to become more confident and open with others, and establish new relationships. There is no cost to participants; however the benefits are endless.

“I used to be shy, but I met my best friend here. I’m not afraid to be myself anymore.”

Listening to the details that each girl was willing to share during circle time made it quickly evident that this group has developed a sense of closeness and trust in one another. For example, one girl was able to confide in the group about a sick relative and the emotional impact that possibly losing this person would have on her life. However for tonight she was able to leave that stress behind and focus on herself by having fun with the group. Tracy, the group leader, said that this is one of the many things that make this group great: the girls feel comfortable to allow you to share in their life story; but they give themselves the chance to do something positive for themselves and strengthen their friendships each week.

“You’ll find a way to fit in here! Despite the diversity in the group, everyone is able to find a commonality and I call them all my friends.”

GiL (19). Turkey driveJPGNone of the girls know what they’ll walk into before they attend: it could be focused on self-learning, trying a new food, doing a craft, playing a game, or practicing a skill – but it’s never the same thing twice! They have even participated in a number of volunteer events like the Turkey Drive and Potato Blitz. There are only a few things that are consistent week after week: the high energy that each girl brings; the group focus on positive social interaction and overall healthy living; and sharing in a healthy snack together.

While visiting the program, it was clear to see the impact of the program on each of the girls. Each one isn’t just coming to spend time with their friends; they keep coming because they have a lot of passion and want to make a difference in the world. Many of the girls said they’re planning to go to college or university one day. One specifically mentioned wanting to help people through addictions; and that this group has helped her begin to understand how we become who we are. Another wants to become a social worker because they look forward to becoming the type of person that others can talk to about their problems and struggles.

In conversation one participant shared that “this group makes me live happier…sometimes I get bullied at school, but then I come here and I can learn and have fun with friends.” Another participant followed up with “More people should come!”

If you know someone who is interested in participating in the program they can do so by calling the Kingsdale Community Centre at 519-741-2540 or by registering for the program on the City of Kitchener’s website here using program code 157726 .

Volunteers and guest speakers are always welcome, as are donations of grocery store gift cards to help provide healthy snacks.


So where will you now share your clothing or household items?

April 25, 2014

For many years the Emergency Food Hamper Program has been able to share the generous community donations of clothing and household items as an extra resource to the patrons coming in for food assistance. However as the program demand grows, we no longer have the resources and capacity to continue distributing these items. Staff and volunteers acknowledge the importance of sharing community donations at this program, as many individuals and families have benefited by finding clothes for an interview, obtaining a set of dishes when settling into Canada, swapping toys for their children to play with, etc. Nonetheless, with the growing demand for food assistance every day, the program lacks the space to display these donated items in the lobby and the storage space for excess items in the warehouse.

Our hope is that community members will continue sharing their generosity with other local thrift organizations such as Worth a Second Look, Salvation Army, MCC Thrift Store, and Goodwill. Each one of these organizations strives to meet a community need by providing low-cost clothing, furniture and household items. Utilizing a more spacious environment, a committed team of volunteers and a dedication to helping our community, we are pleased to encourage everyone to share their donations with any of these organizations.

Thank you for your support and understanding. We sincerely appreciate and value the more than $2.5 million worth of non-monetary donations we receive annually. However going forward we ask that community support for House of Friendship continues in the form of non-perishable items (click here for a link to what’s most needed by the Food Bank of Waterloo Region), food prepared in publicly inspected kitchens, and monetary donations. These items can be donated at the Emergency Food Hamper program, or the Charles Street Men’s Hostel (available 24/7). To keep updated on how you can support House of Friendship, you can always view the “You can help” section in our “Friendship News”; or contact Tony at 519-742-8327 ext 335 or email.

Your support is part of the many ways House of Friendship has had an impact in this community in the last 75 years. We look forward to your continuing support in the years ahead.

Wreaths with a cause

November 15, 2012

For the fourth year in a row Colour Paradise Greenhouse is opening their doors to the creative efforts of many community members to accept wreaths that were distributed last week to be decorated.  Each wreath has a unique decoration and theme.

Charles Village, one of the House of Friendship programs, submitted one of the 40 wreaths that will be put up for auction until November 24th. Here’s a picture of our wreath:

You’ll notice the decorations are simple; but there’s a thought that inspired the wreath to be decorated this way.

A few of the Charles Village tenants will contribute jokes, recipes, comics, articles and many other things for our building newsletter: Charles Village News & Views. The following article was submitted from one of our tenants, Pete for the newsletter.

Where do you find hope in a world where the daily news seems to be a parade of what I call the “bads” in the world? Is it naïve to think that you can have hope for what the future holds?
Our universe, and thus we who occupy it, are under the law of entropy; the whole thing is running down. The best scientists teach that the universe is headed for a heat death. So, where do you go to find hope in a troubled world?
Hope consists of looking to the future and believing that your passions, desires, and dreams can be realized. You dream of what you want your life to be like in the future.
Sometimes I look at the lives of the rich, the famous and the infamous and wonder what it would be like to walk a mile in their shoes—no matter how expensive they may be. But hope does not reside in an unattainable tomorrow.
Not all of you will reach the dreams that you have. But, action and a life lived with purpose and conviction will lead you to a future where your hope dwells.
To dance between the present now and the unknown tomorrow requires vision and a fortitude that is rewarded by pleasant triumphs in your life.
Do you lose hope when a situation assaults you or when you fail to pick yourself up and risk more defeat in your life? Will you be satisfied with a degree of hopelessness that plagues your tomorrow and clouds your vision?
You may have heard that all things work to the good to those that put your love and hope in God. The creator of all things will not leave you wanting. Hope is built on the foundation of love directed towards God and a respect for others and their rights, their hopes and their dreams.
If you don’t allow collisions of your tomorrow with their todays, you can live in the light of a future that warms, comforts, and lights a path that you can’t wait to travel and openly embrace. Hope will then be yours, for the rest of your days.

I thought Pete did a really great job on this article. It got me thinking a lot about what hope means and how individualized and imperfect hope can be for everyone.  So this is a glimpse at what inspired our wreath decoration. Not every wreath will come with a story, but I encourage you to connect with Colour Paradise Greenhouses to look at one of the many wreaths available. You can start by visiting the ribbon cutting ceremony on November 15th at 5pm to view the wreaths, enjoy live music, and treat yourself to a home-baked goodie. When I dropped off my wreath earlier this week I took a sneak peek at many of the beautiful wreaths available. I believe there is something for every taste; and the best part is that the proceeds from the winning bids on each wreath will go to support the work of House of Friendship.

Thanks in advance for your support in this wonderful event. And a big thank you to Colour Paradise Garden for all their continual hard work and generous efforts! Bidding can be done by a visit in–person during Greenhouse business hours or by phone 519-745-0200. You can find all the wreathes on the Colour  Paradise’s Facebook page here.

Eating healthy: Perspective from a Pro

September 6, 2012

Since starting at Charles Village a few months ago, I quickly learned that the tenants in this building really appreciate having guest speakers come in to talk about a variety of subjects. So far I’ve been fortunate to have people volunteer to teach guitar and talk about the Kitchener Public Library renovations and services; and we’ve also utilized our tenants’ skills in hosting art workshops. But one of the most recent guest speakers I had the opportunity to host was Ruth Thompson, Registered Nutrition Consultant.

Given all her knowledge and experience, our tenants (along with a few tenants from Eby Village) were delighted to have her speak about “Healthy eating on a budget: Food budgeting challenges and solutions”. Eating healthy is a challenge that everyone can relate to; but it’s especially challenging for most of the tenants here as they have limited incomes. Some of the tenants do work, but it’s often part-time hours or minimum wage pay. Others receive some type of government assistance, such as Employment Insurance, Ontario Works (OW), Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), or a pension. The bottom line is, even with their rent being geared to income, some of the tenants still face issues of having enough money to buy the foods they need.

The quality of food you eat generally affects your overall health. As you get older, it becomes even more important to be diligent about monitoring how you spend your food dollars. So with this in mind, Ruth designed a presentation to focus on discussing four common food budgeting challenges:

  1. Cost of animal proteins.
  2. Waste from spoiled foods.
  3. Convenience foods with little nutritional value
  4. Understanding food labels.

Many of us know food costs are rising – especially meat! This can be challenging because many people enjoy dinners that are centered on having some type of meat like chicken, steak, or a pork chop. With this in mind, it also means that many of us are likely eating more than the two to three servings of meats and alternatives that are recommended on Canada’s Food Guide. But you don’t have to give up what you enjoy to still eat healthy on a budget; instead Ruth suggested looking at buying less expensive cuts of meats to marinate before cooking or to use while slow cooking soups and stews. Or another option is to look at eating alternative (and cheaper) protein sources such as eggs, legumes, or vegetable proteins.

By taking steps to reduce the costs of your protein sources, you’ll have more money to invest in other areas of your grocery bill, such as fruits and vegetables. However buying these can be another challenge, especially in the winter season when there are less local produce choices available, meaning higher prices. Well Ruth’s solution was to focus on buying products with a longer shelf life such as onions, carrots, squash, turnips, beets, apples, and potatoes. For more variety and the best bang for your buck the next best option is to use frozen fruits and vegetables, since they’re cheaper, won’t spoil, and aren’t packaged in sugars or salts like canned varieties. Although if you do use canned food products, it’s a good idea to rinse them to under water to help rinse out some of the salt and other preservatives.

Avoiding preservatives can be hard though, especially with a busy lifestyle. After a day of running errands, attending school, or being at work, it’s easier to microwave a frozen TV dinner than cook a full meal. Unfortunately these meal options often don’t do your body much good. Yes cooking a meal generally involves some planning and time, but it’s much better than high cost convenience foods (such as cold cut meats, pizza pockets, and fruit drinks) that leave you with a belly full of fat, salt and/or sugar. So how do you fight this challenge? Well you can try preparing large batches of meals such as soups, casseroles, and chili to freeze for days when you need a quicker or less labour intensive meal.

It’s somewhat labour intensive to read food labels, but reading through the ingredients can often help you make the best use of your food dollars. One example Ruth talked about was yogurt. Many companies use advertising to highlight trendy claims like probiotic cultures, but often have long ingredient lists full of things you might not want to eat like sugar and other additives. So it’s important to look at the label on the back of the product to become more aware of all the sugars, oils, and fats that you might not otherwise be aware of.

I hope you’ll find the many tips from this incredible presentation helpful! Everyone left with a lot of new information and food for thought. And again I’d like to send a big thank you to Ruth for taking time out of her busy practice to share her knowledge with our tenants.

If you’re interested in sharing your skills, knowledge or experience with tenants at Charles Village, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to email me ( or call me: 519-742-8327 ext. 402.

One wrong turn

May 31, 2012

image via Flickr

It’s amazing how quickly your life can turn from good to bad. One second you have it all together; and the next you’re scrambling to make ends meet. Life is full of tricky twists and turns, and sometimes there’s not much keeping you away from needing a program like ours.

Take Randy for example. Randy often made that extra step at the grocery store and each week dropped off a few extra items into the food bank donation bin. Today, he needs to go to one for the first time.

This summer started off like a dream. I had great friends, a house, and got a great job. I’ve been working construction, when there’s enough work to do. Since I just started I’m the first one to get a day off when a job is held up or there’s not enough work to pass along. But it’s been okay because the long hours on some of the other days have helped me make enough to cover all my bills. I wasn’t a millionaire but things were comfortable….Boy I miss those days! Now I’m constantly on the phone with car repair facilities, my insurance company, doctors and physiotherapists. This is all because of a car accident that happened one day after work. I don’t remember everything because it all happened so fast. And I couldn’t believe how quickly I ran through the little savings I had… it didn’t take long before I needed a food bank.

It may sound like a cliché, but you never know how many bad turns, days or weeks you are away from having to come to a food bank. If you suddenly lost your job, how long would your savings last? What could you sell or quickly pawn to cover your bills? How long could you keep on doing that?

With limited insurance coverage your monthly bills already exceeding your savings – what do you do? Where do you turn? Who would you rely on to get you through this difficult time? How quickly would you be able to do something like sell your house? And then what? How do you start over again?  What happens to your retirement plans?

For Randy all of this uncertainty is because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s hopeful but he can only hold onto hope for so long. What would keep you strong enough to make it through this uncertain time?

Many people like Randy never realize how many missed pay cheques away they are from needing to swallow their pride and turn to our volunteers for help. When you’re working and things are going well you rarely imagine what it would take to put you too far back. Often all it takes is one unexpected turn of event to set people back on the bills for a few weeks, months, or sometimes years. When you’re ahead it’s easy to keep going, but when you fall behind it’s a hard climb back up to regain that feeling that you are in control of your life again.

Wishing it was just a dream

May 10, 2012

From time-to-time my coworkers and I become a listening ear for someone in a crisis. Sometimes we can direct people to other resources for help; but sometimes people just need someone to vent to. This is exactly the case for Jessica. Jessica is coming for a food hamper after experiencing a situation that she never imagined being faced with.

When I woke up today and looked around my house I pinched myself. This had to be a bad dream that I’d wake up from. I even tried going back to bed to convince myself that this couldn’t be real. My partner left a note saying it was over. And then I noticed that all the food in our fridge and cupboards, and a few other things were gone. How could he just leave me like this? And why did he take everything? We can’t live without food. Sometime in the middle of the night he left and took everything with him. Sure I have a full-time job but we live pay cheque to pay cheque – where am I going to get the money to buy everything back that he’s taken? He didn’t have a steady job but he kicked in money towards the bills here and there, which was always enough to get us by. Now I’ll probably have to cancel my internet and home phone because I doubt I’ll be able to afford them anymore. And I’m already thinking about the possibility of moving to something cheaper. I’ve got a million thoughts going through my mind that I’m not even sure where to start!

Coming here was a step in the right direction. Though it definitely wasn’t an easy choice, we can give her some options. Wait – let me rephrase that: give you more options, because you’re not dreaming either – this is your story.

The first thing you check is your bank account. You remember giving him your debit card to get groceries a few days ago when you were too tired to go after work. Did he give you the card back? Did he take out any money on top of the cost of all the groceries? You never thought to worry about anything like that because you felt like the relationship was going well. Unfortunately you were in for a surprise.

You waited so long to move in together because you wanted to know that you could both afford an apartment together and that he was a good fit for your kids. For a few months it was a great decision but now you’re kids are wondering where all the stuff went and when they’ll see him again.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Like Jessica, I’m sure your mind would be racing a mile a minute through all these thoughts. You can start by referrals through friends and families to get connected to immediate supports such as food banks. Then from there you’ll hope they can refer you to social service agencies or thrift stores that can help you obtain all the items that your ex took from you. And each day you go through this difficult transition I’m sure you’d continue hoping that this is still a bad dream that you’ll eventually wake up from. Luckily for you, this situation will end when you close this blog, but Jessica continues to stay awake through these struggles.

HOF Family: 807 to 75

April 24, 2012

Today I’m full of a mixture of emotions for a variety of reasons which basically leaves me torn whether to be happy or sad. I’m sad that this will no longer see all of the familiar faces at Emergency Food Hampers (one a regular basis), talk to many people in need of food assistance, and do many other familiar tasks. Yet I’m also happy because people have shared so many kind words and wishes to encourage me on my new journey that will be starting soon. Yes after four incredible years with the food hamper program I’ll be saying farewell to this program and be welcomed by a new House of Friendship program: Charles Village.

I recently accepted a position as the Community Support Worker with Charles Village. I’m excited for many of the new things I’m about to learn, events I’ll plan, people I’ll soon get to know, and challenges I’ll be helping to resolve. However each time I think about this new and exciting journey, it brings me back to the memories I have of the first weeks and months here at food hampers.

When I started at food hampers I was overwhelmed with a new group of amazingly friendly volunteers each day, and a group of supportive staff to help me learn the various operations that happen within the building each day. I remember hearing people talk about doing 160 hampers and it being such a chaotic day of non-stop movement. Unfortunately now 160 feels like a standard or steady day now that we do with little to no issues, and days where we serve over 200 are manageably chaotic it seems.

Also when I first started I had no idea how little some people could live on and how creative so many people are forced to become to make their money stretch. In my span of responding to requests for food hampers I’ve heard more stories than I can share in a reasonable amount of space about struggles people face each day. Because of the transitions and experiences I’ve begun to discover how much there is to poverty and low-income and it’s opened my eyes to many struggles I didn’t even realize existed in the “small” Kitchener-Waterloo region. I feel fortunate that I was given the opportunity to learn about some of these things here.

But I’m not all smiles looking back on the changes in myself and the program over my time here. One of the reasons I’m probably saddest to leave is because I’ll be leaving behind a group of volunteers that have all touched my heart in various ways. Though each of them has shared nothing but positive and happy words, it doesn’t make it any easier to know that I won’t see many of them again. Everyone leaves a job saying they’ll be back to visit, but few people really do – but I’m hoping to be an exception to that statement though. Everyone here at food hampers has grown to become part of my extended family. While working here it’s never been uncommon for many of us to share various aspects of our lives together each time we pass each other in the warehouse or sit down for a break in the lunchroom. And this also goes for many of the staff as well! Plus there are a few patrons who visit our lobby for extra bread or to browse through the clothes on a somewhat regular basis that I’ve shared a few conversations with from time-to-time in between quiet times at the front desk or while cleaning at the end of the day. Each person has had an impact on me that I’ll never forget and helped make me a better person. And I’ll miss them all so much!

So thank you so much to everyone that I’ve encountered here! I’ve learned so much from each and every one of you that it’s hard for me to put into words how this experience has really changed my life. But most importantly I hope everyone knows that I’ll always remember you – whether you were a faithful blog reader, a student volunteering for a short bit as part of your school requirements, part of the “seasoned chicken club” of volunteers, staff or patrons! And hopefully you won’t forget me either!

Embarking on a new path

April 12, 2012

People like to talk about it and read into the meaning of it, but divorce is something that many people will experience at one point in their lives. There are many reasons for it, sometimes things end amicably; sometimes it’s because of stress and debt, abuse, infidelity, substance abuse, or career related conflicts (Source). Regardless of the reasons, studies from the 2006 Canadian Census reveal that four in ten first marriages will end in divorce before 2035 (Source). Unfortunately today this is one of the current and stressful situations that Diane is facing.

After a few years of marriage we decided to start having kids. It was challenging at times, but also the most wonderful decision we made. I love my kids with all my heart…But sometime after that is when I think my husband and I started to grow apart. Well I know we started growing apart, because we’re just in the final stages of settling who gets what assets. It’s such a complicated procedure and we haven’t even started figuring out child support payments! I’m a single mom with three kids and a limited support network. After the divorce I needed to find a new place to live, so we moved to Kitchener a few weeks ago. I’m still working on finding a job and daycare but last week the last of my savings ran out. Luckily I found out about this program so we can have some food while I keep getting my resume out there. I never realized how hard it would be to start my life over from scratch.

Life as a single parent is going to be a big adjustment – and definitely one that you’ll never be able to prepare yourself for. (more…)

Home Economics 101: Waterloo Edition – What does a healthy diet cost?

February 3, 2012

It’s no surprise how quickly a grocery bill can add up throughout the month after you buy fresh produce, school snacks, meat, milk, and all the other foods you need. But do you have any idea how much money someone typically spends to feed the average family in Waterloo Region a healthy diet? … Give up? Well keep reading and you’ll find out!

Back in September The Region of Waterloo released their annual “Cost of the Nutritious Food Basket” report, which provides an estimate on the overall cost for a household to eat a healthy diet. The estimates of this report are based on average food prices from various grocery stores throughout the community, based on the dietary recommendations from Canada’s Food Guide for specific ages and genders, the number of people in the household and reflective on eating patterns of the community. (more…)

2012 is a year to be smart here!

January 30, 2012

In the past I took some time to highlight some of the functions of our lobby or waiting area, which you can read about here. But oops – I missed something: our bulletin board! Our bulletin board is a relatively big part of our lobby that we try to fill with social services event listings, any new updates to social assistance recipients or low-income individuals, job postings, and current rental housing lists.

Recently I set up a new display on our bulletin board that focuses on one of the twelve themes in the 2012 Smart Consumer Calendar. Here’s a picture of it to give you an idea:

Though you can't read all the words it gives you a small glimpse at all the tips I've tried to share.

Debt is something that most people living in North America are familiar with.  Credit cards bills, mortgages and student loans all pile up and need to be paid each month.  For people who lose their jobs these bills keep coming.  Many people are employed seasonally, so a lack of snow this year also means a lacking paycheck. (more…)