Posts Tagged ‘Challenges’

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…)

Day 5: The Gift of Health

December 14, 2012

12 Days

Today’s theme in our 12 Days series is ‘Health’. As we’ve talked about many times before (here, here, and here), we see the effects of poverty on people’s health every day here at food hampers. To give one example, a woman came in for a hamper a few weeks ago, and disclosed she had been diagnosed with cancer. She explained that her doctor recommended she stay away from canned items, as some contain chemicals in the lining of the container, and had also recommended she increase her intake of fruit, vegetables, and whole grain products. This was difficult for her to take in; since she relies on food hamper programs like ours, she often has to subsist on non-perishable items and less produce. Like many people we interact with here, she is caught between wanting to follow her doctor’s orders to get healthy again, and needing to accept what food assistance agencies offered her so she can eat at all. Luckily, we were able to give her some extra produce, but she should not have to take a gamble every time she needs food.

needed_items

Many of our program participants have diabetes or other chronic diseases, which are far more common among people living on low income than people in other income brackets, yet it is difficult to afford the foods that may help them deal with their disease.

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The question box: why do we only give six hampers per year?

October 12, 2012

In previous blogs about our question box we have answered the questions “why do you give out expired food?” and “how do you get the food you give out?” This week, I’ll talk about why we only give 6 hampers per year.

Last week, we found the following note in our question box:

I use the food bank a lot, and I don’t think 6 hampers a year is enough. I appreciate it every time as I don’t come unless I need it. But sometimes the people who pack my hamper don’t do it correctly and you get nothing. But thank you.

Thanks to whoever wrote us this note—it’s important to us to hear honest remarks about whether or not we are meeting people’s needs when they come to us for help. There are a few significant parts to this note: first, why we only give six hampers per year, and second, why sometimes our hampers are smaller than other times. Today I’m going to tackle the issue of why we only give out six hampers per year.

Our hamper packing area

As people who come to our program know, we have a limit of six hampers per year, or 12 for people over 65 (Nadir talks more about the intake process and our limits here). This theoretical limit (more on this wording later) exists because of our capacity—we already give out 140 hampers per day on average, and in the winter we regularly give out over 200 hampers per day. The limit of six is a compromise between giving enough to cover family emergencies and being able to distribute food fairly between all the families who come in. We are an emergency service, and six hampers per year could feasibly cover two or three financial emergencies—for example, if someone has lost their job and is waiting for Employment Insurance or Ontario Works, a few hampers will get them through the weeks where they’re not receiving any income.

All that being said, we call our limit a theoretical limit. Although we encourage people to try other resources such as the Salvation Army or St. Vincent de Paul churches, once someone has used their fifth and sixth hampers we won’t turn them away empty-handed. We do give some people seven or eight hampers per year, and in some cases where someone may have a serious illness or disability which makes it difficult for them to access other food distribution centres, we have given over that amount. In August we made 156 exceptions, meaning of all the hampers we packed last month, 156 were for families who had already had six hampers. Not every family gets their full amount of hampers—the average amount of hampers we give out to a family is three. This may give you an idea of the diversity of situations in which people find themselves; while some people need our program persistently, others we see only once every few years when they’ve hit a rough patch. We need to be flexible to accommodate the different needs of people we see; while some people can get by using us only a few times, others may have things going on that mean they need us more than our limits allow.

Having flexible limits is especially important for us given that we know how limited income is for people on Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program (OW and ODSP). According to a 2011 report released by the 25 in 5 network, called “Common Ground: a strategy for moving forward on poverty reduction,” current rates of OW are lower in real dollars than when Mike Harris’ government cut them to just $520 per month for a single person. $520 in 1995, when adjusted for inflation, would be $716 in 2011 Canadian dollars, yet in 2011 a single person on OW received just $599 per month. People living on social assistance are increasingly constrained financially because the amount they receive isn’t tied to inflation. Essentially this means that as the cost of living gradually increases, the amount they earn per month stagnates. Unfortunately, it is very hard to live a healthy life and buy nutritious food when living on this income, as we’ve talked about here.

So, given that we only have a limited capacity for storing and distributing food, yet we know that people on social assistance have an extremely limited income, we need to strike a compromise. We use our limits and our food quotas (which determine how much of each item people get on a given day, based on how much we have and how many hampers we predict we’ll do) to ensure we distribute food as equitably as we can between people who need it. In an ideal world we would have an unlimited nutritious food supply (or, alternatively, in an ideal world no one would need emergency food assistance,) but given our constraints we have determined that having the guideline of 6 hampers per year will allow us to distribute what we do have in the most fair manner. Right now, it’s the best we can do.

I hope this post is informative, especially about some of the shortcomings of our program. We try to do our best distributing the food we have fairly, so the most people can benefit. We see the limits and rules we have as grey areas, so we can always make exceptions based on a person’s unique situation. One of our guiding philosophies is that we operate based on trust, and another is that we don’t want to turn people away empty-handed with no other options. We also engage in advocacy efforts when we can, and at House of Friendship as a whole, we’re using advocacy to try to reduce poverty in Waterloo Region (like we wrote about here). Remember, food banks were started in the 1980s as a temporary measure during the recession. Since then, they’ve become permanent institutions. We believe that if we can work to reduce the root causes of poverty and housing insecurity, we can reduce (or eliminate) demand for our program.

Child nutrition in Canada: poverty, health and well-being

July 17, 2012

A few weeks ago Nadir was talking to a woman at intake that had brought her daughter with her to pick up a hamper. Nadir asked the girl, “no school today?” The mother responded that she didn’t have a lunch to send with her daughter to school, so she kept her at home instead. Unfortunately, this is not an unusual statement for us to hear at intake.  Faced with the option of having her daughter go to school hungry—where her child might face social isolation from her peers, and her teacher might contact Family and Children’s Services—or not sending her at all, the mother had to make a choice. Like many Canadian families, this mother probably had to choose between sending her child to school with a nutritious and school appropriate lunch and being able to pay her rent for the month. For the child growing up in poverty, this decision will have a long term effect on their education, health, and probably their social well-being.

The extent of child poverty in Canada was outlined in a recent report by UNICEF (which can be found here), called “measuring child poverty:  new league tables of child poverty in the world’s richest countries.” The report ranked the wealthiest countries in the world according to how many children were in relative poverty. According to UNICEF, a child is living in relative poverty when they are living in a household where disposable income is less than 50% of the median disposable income for the country. By this criteria, 13.3% of Canadian children are living in relative poverty. What’s more, as this article explains, though the federal government once pledged to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000, now, 12 years after that milestone has passed, there is still no national definition of child poverty or concrete strategies at a national level to reduce it. Though it is hard to know for certain how many children are poor because there are competing definitions of poverty and different ways to measure it, we do know that of the approximately 851 000 Canadians who visited food banks in 2011, over one third of them were children (see this infographic for more information from food banks and yearly report cards on child poverty here from Campaign 2000).

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Living on low income with diabetes

June 28, 2012

Imagine you’re a single mother working a minimum wage job, and you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Minimum wage is certainly not a living wage, and the kinds of food that one can afford working $10.25 per hour are limited, especially if you’re supporting yourself and your children. The more nutritious food you can afford to purchase will typically go to feeding your kids first, and you will have whatever is left. You rely on food hampers to ease the financial burden of buying food, but you can’t rely on them being filled with the options you need to manage your diabetes. What’s more, the current situation and stress of living on low-income while raising a family takes precedence over getting support to manage living with diabetes. It’s nearly impossible to make specialist appointments because of your work schedule and your kids’ school schedule, and bus fare can add up quickly.

Something we are constantly thinking about at the Emergency Food Hamper program is how we can better accommodate people’s dietary needs, whether they are for medical, religious, or other reasons. One common disease that affects many of our patrons is type 2 diabetes. As you can see from the example at the beginning of this post, people’s income level very heavily determines their level of health (for more on the social determinants of health, read Matt’s blog post here). This is particularly true of diabetes; in 2010, Statistics Canada found that women living on low income were more likely than their more privileged counterparts to develop the disease (read a news article on this here, and the actual report from Statistics Canada here). On top of this, the complications of living with diabetes are much harder to manage if you are living on low income. Because we try to provide the best nutrition options for people who come in for hampers, we have to pay attention to how diabetes affects people living on low income and try to accommodate that as best we can.

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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.

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…)

Pitch in at the grocery store and online!

December 14, 2011

Today is the 5th day of our 12days campaign to get people to pitch in, and is a very busy day for the House of Friendship. Why? Well, today is the day that we started the distribution of Turkeys to the community – thanks to the help of many volunteers and the hard work of the Rotary Club.

Today is full of sharing, warm thoughts, and a lot of heavy lifting for us. For you, I’m sure it’s no different. We all want to do what we can to ensure our family, friends and loved ones know how much we appreciate them. For some that means getting the perfect gift; and for others it’s all about family get togethers, sharing a meal, a card or a kind word. With the holiday season starting to pick up it’s not always easy to find time to buy the gifts, bake cookies,  and sign all the cards for the ones you love while also managing various other tasks such as cleaning the house, working at your job, taking care of your children, and so on.

If you’re trying to find a gift for someone, this is the time of year when things can get extra stressful. The malls are packed with people, the days seem shorter and patience starts to wear thin. This could be why each year more and more people turn to online shopping to help ease the stress of going to the crowded shopping malls and hopefully save some time.

If you’re one of those people who are interested in online shopping options, I’m here to share some good news with you! Now not only can you shop at home in the comfort of your pajamas, but you can also do your part to pitch in and make a donation to the Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto or other charitable organizations while you shop. In order to make this happen, you need to visit this website to complete your online shopping. Here you’ll be able to buy anything from theatre tickets to sporting equipment to jewelry to dinnerware and so much more!  There’s something for everyone! Then each company will donate up to 50 percent of the purchase price to a charity.

However if online shopping is not your cup of tea, or you want to help out people locally, please keep in mind that there are many other ways to help those in need. You can volunteer your time or donate food, clothing, baby items, bus tickets, or money.  We have shared many tips and suggestions so far and you can find them all here.

Some of the most needed food items are being highlighted at various Loblaw chain grocery stores throughout the region such as Valu-Mart, Zehrs, No Frills, or the Real Canadian Superstore. You may have seen this image near some food products in your local grocery store:

This image is to help promote their annual “Extra Helpings Holiday food drive” program, which kicked off November 25th. Each time the event runs these stores are hoping to collect enough food and monetary donations to help fill local food bank shelves for the season. Any donations are appreciated, but please try to pick the same healthy food options that you would choose for your own family. But this in store promotion will be ending very soon!  The last day is tomorrow: December 15!  Can you still donate after the 15th though?  Of course, as usual, there will be a bin by the check out that you can drop food items off in. However the helpful signs probably won’t be there to help guide you.

Regardless of the way you choose to help out this holiday season, each action makes a tremendous impact to the work of a charitable organization and for the people in need of some extra help right now. Hunger doesn’t take a holiday and neither does the need for donations all year round. Even one can of soup can make a difference – it will be someones lunch or dinner – and a very tangible gift that you can make to someone during the month of December.

What are you doing to help pitch in?  Let us know on twitter and Facebook.  Did you donate a can of soup at your local grocery store?  Talk about it, tweet it, blog it!  Your actions will encourage others, and help make someones day while they struggle with hard times.

Let’s share the warmth

December 2, 2011

As snowflakes will soon begin falling down from the sky we’ll all soon become more accustomed to cuddling up under a blanket, perhaps with a warm beverage and some good company to talk to. Well in the spirit of enjoying everything possible from a warm cup of tea, let’s think about how you can spread that joy throughout Canada. Let’s share the warmth!

By this, I’m not referring to the coat drive program that just wrapped up at Salvation Army. Instead sharing the warmth is about giving the gift of tea – and all it takes is one simple click of your computer mouse.

Red Rose Tea Company has launched a campaign for consumers to donate a pot of tea to a registered Canadian charity. Here are some examples of the charities that are awaiting your support:

And as I said before, all it takes is one simple click of your computer mouse. Currently more than 10 000 pots of tea have been donated to these charities! Please click here to make your pot of tea go farther.

What is your morning routine?  I know a lot of people who start their morning with a warm cup of coffee or tea.  I always marvel at the people snaking around the drive through windows at any restaurant that sells coffee.  It’s one of the little things that makes life a little more pleasant, and can be a source of comfort when life is stressful.

It is also important for people to share. In our culture and many others, offering a guest a cup of tea or coffee is a natural and expected part of welcoming someone to your home. Our driver, Salvador, will often share stories of people he has delivered food to, who ask him to share a cup of tea with them because he is the only person they will talk to that week. So, as Red Rose says: “Canadians are known for their warmth of spirit and their love of tea…let’s prove it!” So please take a few minutes to share your love of tea with others from coast to coast.