Archive for the ‘community food security’ Category

Hunger Awareness Week – Let’s Draw The Line On Hunger

September 19, 2016

Today we are pleased to share a piece written by Wendi Campbell, Executive Director of the Food Bank of Waterloo Region.

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Hunger Awareness Week - Let's Draw The Line On Hunger

This week is Hunger Awareness Week. Food Banks Canada is asking us all to draw the line on hunger. Across Canada 850,000 people access a food bank each month. Here in Waterloo Region 12000 people access food assistance each month. How can this be?

The food assistance network in Waterloo Region consists of more than 100 community programs with The Food Bank of Waterloo Region and the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank at the centre. Every day, throughout the community, the staff and volunteers of these programs hear stories of despair turning into stories of hope because along with the food came a smile, a connection to a vital resource, words of encouragement and the knowledge that they were not alone. For many of those seeking assistance their stories are connected to mental health challenges – family breakdowns following job loss, years of battling and illness that has resulted in being unable to work, addictions deeply rooted in childhood trauma and an overwhelming inability to move on.

The Food Bank of Waterloo Region held an event recently to explore mental health as one of the underlying factors affecting the need for food support. Martin Bauman spoke of his recently completed fund and awareness-raising cross-Canada bicycle trek. He informed those in attendance that 1 in 5 Canadians deals with mental illness in their lifetime. On his journey Martin realized the transformative power conversation can have – simply talking and sharing with someone else can make an immeasurable difference. His message that it is important to look out for one another and simple things like smiling and having a conversation have a positive impact were reinforced by singer song writer Chris Scott’s “All It Takes” song. His lyrics, “with a touch of love, they can rise above all the shame. With a chance their lives will never by the same” helped drive home the importance of connectedness.

Police Chief Bryan Larkin and the Working Centre’s Executive Director Joe Mancini brought to mind many images of our community and those struggling to make their way. Whether it be someone asking for assistance at a street corner or someone dealing with their personal challenges silently, and unknown to you, our community has many residents that need help. The initiatives of our local Food Assistance Network strive to make connections among people as well as to critical resources. The most important connection is the bridge from despair to hope that is made by simply acknowledging their existence.

Homelessness, poverty, lack of employment, mental health are intertwined social issues. Often the intersection occurs at a community food program providing emergency food hampers, shelter, outreach, food pantry or meal programs. Communities across the country are facing social issues that have no easy solution and require open minds, thinking differently and creative, systems-based solutions. Bringing people together in new ways, gently encouraging connectedness can help to mend broken social bonds that are exasperated by stresses such as limited work options.

This Hunger Awareness Week we encourage everyone to take time to reflect and connect with those we know are struggling and consider who else may need a helping hand, a reassuring smile and a touch of kindness. Thank you for your support of our community’s Food Assistance Network. Together we are drawing the line on hunger.

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Opening Up Food Hampers This Summer

July 7, 2016

This summer two years of planning and discussing will finally pay off as work will officially begin on a major renovation and reworking of our Emergency Food Hamper Program on Guelph Street.

We are going to extend the front of our warehouse by about 20 feet, demolish the house that sits awkwardly in the middle of our parking lot and greatly improve the safety and efficiency of our operation as a whole.

The New Face of Food Hampers after it's renovation

Food Hampers In A Nutshell

Each week we have two basic jobs:

  1. We receive and sort and store food.
  2. We meet people who need help, we register them, and we give them food.

What Is happening This Summer?

Starting the week of July 11 we will be operating out of two sites.

We will be closed July 11 to finalize the move.  We will be open to the public starting Tuesday July 12.

We will do our food receiving, sorting and storing at the Food Bank of Waterloo Region.  This is job number 1.  Half of our staff and volunteer team will operate there for the better part of each day and get things organised for the other half of the staff and volunteer team that will be at 797 Guelph Street (next door to our current warehouse).  At 797 Guelph we will do job number 2:  Registering people who need help and sharing food with them. (more…)

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

EPF_PLATE_logo1

 

 

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…)

Putting Hunger on The Map For The 2015 Federal Election

October 15, 2015

Jobs that involve working with people are interesting and challenging. Depending on the nature of your job, you might get to know some people enough to recognize them, or even remember their names outside of your workplace.  I’m sure teachers get this a lot the longer they teach.  You’ll be out running an errand and you’ll see all sorts of former students or their parents.  Some you’ll remember, but some, likely not.  It’s funny what sticks in your mind or doesn’t.

Jobs that require you to work with the public make you realize the truth in the phrase “it’s a small world.”

I remember when I first started working at the House of Friendship’s Men’s Hostel on Charles Street, that the down town core of Kitchener changed for me.  I was not born it Kitchener or Waterloo, so I didn’t know a lot of people here when I first started living here.  It didn’t take too long working at the Hostel before I could recognize a lot of the people I passed on the street down town as former or current residents.  It drove home the understanding that most of the poverty that exists in our community is largely invisible and everyone has a story.

Now that I have been working at the Food Hamper Program for more than a decade, it doesn’t matter where I go.  I will usually see at least one or more people that I have served at some point.  At the grocery store, library, my kids school or just walking through my neighbourhood.  It is a small city after all and as I am about to share, (and have in the past) there are very few neighbourhoods in the city that don’t have someone in them who has needed our help at one point or another in the course of any given year.

Who Needs A Food Bank?  Your Neighbour Does

In the previous post we shared what some of our community centre, food hamper and supportive housing participants had to say about the upcoming Federal election.

Today I would like to share some information specific to our Emergency Food Hamper Program, carrying on the work we did this summer, to determine what share each Federal and Provincial Electoral district had of the people we helped over a year.

For the Federal election, things are a little different, because of the additional of a new riding for this election and the modification of the remaining ones.

So, for the candidates striving for victory, once the votes are counted, and the winner announced, how many households that have needed a food bank will they represent? (more…)

Something To Chew On This Thanksgiving

October 12, 2015

House of Friendship thinks you should vote for the community you want to seeOne of the first volunteer jobs I had in Kitchener Waterloo was doing non partisan outreach to encourage people to vote. One of my tasks involved standing on a corner, down the street from St. John’s Kitchen (back before it moved to it’s new location on Victoria Street) and handing out material to the men and women who were going in and out of the building to get a hot meal.

I saw a lot of people that day, and not all of them were thrilled to talk to me about why they should vote. While some were enthusiastic, I would say the majority of them expressed indifference, and occasionally, a fair degree of hostility to the political process, in which they felt they had no say, or representation.

Fair enough, the last thing you want to do is stand around with a stranger and talk about the how and why of voting when all you want is something to eat.

Which raises a big question: how can you engage with the political process when you have more immediate concerns in front of you, namely, no food, or even, no place to call a home? (more…)

Fantastic Reasons Why A Basic Income Makes Moral Cents

September 21, 2015

Ontarians of a certain age and inclination know Mr. Brown, the terribly obnoxious (and fictional) winner of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming’s “Cash For Life” prize. Each week the same mailman delivers a one thousand dollar cheque to Mr. Brown, and each week Mr. Brown crows with delight. “Faaantastic!” he says.

As a child I thought this was a lame commercial and a lame prize. As the spot progresses we see evidence that Mr. Brown is making modest material gains: golf clubs, a boat, incremental additions to his home. I had decided then that winning the lottery should mean being able to check out of life as we know it, buying a castle like Mike Tyson’s, tigers and all. This was not the case for Mr. Brown, who we see pathetically and predictably by his fence each week waiting for the mail man to bring him his cheque. I imagined Mr. Brown driving his slightly better car to his same crappy job; taking marginally better vacations; and maybe, finally, buying organic!

I am older now, and if not wiser, more experienced. I think: maybe Mr. Brown was home to meet the mail man because he quit his job. I think: maybe he quit his job to build the studio he needed, so that he could spend his days drawing charcoal portraits of golden retrievers, as was his childhood dream. I think: what would I do if I had a thousand dollars a week? And although that question invites all kinds of existential anxiety – because what should I be doing with this wild and precious life? I assume I’d eventually figure things out. (more…)

Planting A Seed: Starting A Conversation About Food Security And A Basic Income

September 16, 2015

Today we are happy to share some insight from Jen H, a local Food System’s Roundtable member and Public Health dietician.  This post is the start of a three part series on the significance of a Guaranteed Basic Income and connects it to discussions of hunger in Canada, and locally, here in Waterloo Region.

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A while back I attended a webinar about food security – or the lack thereof – in Canada. It was hosted by a well-known researcher on the subject, Valerie Tarasuk. I serve on the Food System’s Roundtable Food Access working group and thought the information presented in the webinar made some interesting points about accessing food in Canada, which may help form conversations around how to address the issue of food insecurity in Waterloo Region.

Food security is a complicated concept that touches on, and is affected by every aspect of the food system, human health and beyond. Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. Many factors can affect one’s food security negatively or positively. (more…)

Two Ways To Make Jobs Better and Reduce Poverty

August 4, 2015

“If you’re going to look at poverty, you absolutely have to look at peoples’ work.” So began the Social Planning Council for Cambridge and North Dumfries 10th Annual Poverty Symposium.

Sounds simple, and obvious, and yet we often talk about everything else, when we talk about poverty.

In part, I think this is because work is an incredibly complicated and immediately overwhelming topic. We can give people food, and they’ll probably eat it. We can build a shelter, and people will probably sleep in it. But how do we make sure that people have decent jobs with decent pay?

(more…)

How To Take Two Trips For The Price Of One

June 19, 2015

Museums like the ROM, different cities, camps and more are all great places to go on a school trip. Photo via Flickr user Grant MacDonald

One of the nice things about being a parent is the opportunity to accompany your child or children on a school trip: you get some insight into class room dynamics, spend some time with your child, and learn a bit about the environment in which they spend so much of their time.

At the end of the year, many classes organize school trips.  I remember these as great experiences to go outside of the community I grew up in, visit new places with my friends and have a lot of fun.

For the first part of this week, my co-worker at the Emergency Food Hamper Program, Raymond, was absent as he accompanied one of his children on an end of year trip.  As a result I stepped into his role a little more than I usually do, and coordinated the challenging and interesting job of receiving, organizing, inventorying and distributing the many food donations we receive.  This week was a little more challenging than others. (more…)