Posts Tagged ‘Emergency Food Hamper Program’

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.

The question box: how do we get the food we give out?

September 18, 2012

This is number two in a blog series around the question box we put up at the food hamper program. A few months ago, we put up a question box in our lobby so people could ask questions about the program that they were maybe hesitant to come up and ask the staff. Last time, we answered the question “why do you give out expired food?” Today I’ll be answering another question: “how do you get this much food?”

The question box in our lobby

The answer is simple: we are able to distribute as much food as we do because of the generous donations we receive from businesses and organizations in and outside Waterloo Region. We are also fortunate to have space and equipment to unload and store food safely. (more…)

The question box: why do we give out expired food?

July 24, 2012

Our question box

At a service program like Emergency Food Hampers, it’s often hard to make staff seem approachable. No matter how friendly or trusting staff act towards patrons, there will always be a power divide. We have the power to give people food or withhold it for reasons we deem legitimate. Although we do make many exceptions and operate based on trust, the perceived (and real) power divide exists.

It was partially for this reason that a few weeks ago, we came up with the idea of putting a question box in our lobby. The idea behind this is that if people felt too self-conscious or shy to ask front desk staff a question about our program, they can put it in the box instead. If they leave a telephone number or email, we can contact them within a week to answer their question. If they don’t, we can answer the question on the blog. This is supposed to be a way for people to have multiple routes to getting information about our program. As such, this is installment one of question box answers.

The first question we found in the box read: why do you give people expired food? This is an excellent question!

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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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What do we do other than provide food hampers?

June 20, 2012

As part of my ongoing training I’ve been tasked with finding out the services we offer other than food hampers. Although the bulk of our resources go towards providing people with emergency food hampers, we do offer other services. These fall into two main categories: non-food supports we offer to people who visit us, and food related services we offer to other organizations.

Let’s start with the non-food services we offer to patrons. First of all, we have our lovely lobby, which is kept in order by Wouda and Carola (see their profiles here and here). Everything in the lobby is free for anyone who wants it, including the clothing, shoes, and extra food we put out. We also offer people household goods, like pots, pans, cutlery, and even bedding, if they are in need. They can ask us for these things in our lobby and we try to accommodate their needs.

The lobby

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Allow me to introduce myself…

May 17, 2012

Hi everyone, my name is Erin and I’m the new intake worker here at the House of Friendship’s Emergency Food Hamper program. Let me introduce myself. I just graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University, and after taking five years to complete my degree I’m happy to be out of an academic setting. I’m an avid community gardener, and I’m interested in food security issues in Waterloo Region, Ontario, and beyond. I’m also interested in the politics of food security; how decisions made in government affect people’s everyday lives, and how they affect access to such a fundamental necessity as food.

I’d like to share some of my impressions after one week at the Emergency Food Hamper program. First of all, I’m overwhelmed by the friendly atmosphere created by staff and volunteers at the House of Friendship. So far I’ve enjoyed every day at work, and I’ve felt welcomed onto the team. It’s humbling to be working with some volunteers who have been here for five years, or over a decade. I knew coming into the position that the Food Hamper program was volunteer-based, but I continue to be surprised by the sheer volume of people that donate their time on a regular basis. I can see why they do it too, the people here are great to be around.

I’m also happy to be lucky enough to work for a program that is in line with my values, and whose philosophy I can firmly support. Through my training it has been repeatedly affirmed that the Emergency Food Hamper program is based on trust; if people come in to receive food, we trust that they need the food. There are no extensive background checks and we limit the amount of personal questions people must answer. When people living on low income seek aid—in the form of food or other resources—the process is often accompanied by feelings of shame or low self worth. This program tries to make the experience one of respect, and limit the stigma attached to seeking food aid.

I’m looking forward to continuing to share my experiences on this blog as I learn more about the program and about local food issues. I know the next few months especially are going to be a learning experience, and I’m anticipating a fulfilling journey. If you come into the program as a volunteer, donator of goods, or a consumer, I look forward to meeting you!

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…)

What’s for dinner?

April 5, 2012

Michael, our BSW student, recently found himself thinking about how people might use the food we share each day.   This is what he had to say:

Photo via flickr user Nena B.

On a weekly basis the Emergency Food Hamper program will normally hand out hundreds of food hampers. The program relies on donations that go up and down and thus has to adjust the amount each family receives based on what is available and how busy they expect to be. This constant change can make it difficult to tailor to each program participant’s food requests. Allergies, family food preferences and varying culinary skills often have to be balanced with what is on hand.  Putting myself in the shoes of someone receiving a food hamper for one person, and using my normal diet and food preferences, I wonder how long could I make a food hamper last?

Today, if I got a hamper, breaking it down into three meals a day, and stretching it over three days would be difficult to accomplish.

Let’s start at the beginning.  This is what I have to work with:

  • 1 frozen bag of 5 chicken nuggets
  • Some sausages
  • 5 lbs. of potatoes
  • 8 oatmeal cereal pouches
  • 1 can of mushroom soup
  • 1 can of uncooked vegetables
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 Kraft Dinner box
  • 1 small bag of raw mushrooms
  • 1 can of tuna
  • 1 fruit cup
  • 1 can of pork and beans
  • 1 stick bread
  • 1 box of shortbread cookies
  • 1 1.3 L bottle of Sunny D beverage
  • 1 500 g Egg Creation carton
  • 1 small bag of frozen vegetables
  • 2 100g cups of yogurt
  • 3-4 pepperettes
  • 1 680g Heluva Good sour cream dip

Now, on to breakfast.

Normally I enjoy a bowl of cereal after I wake up. There are instant oatmeal pouches in the hamper but no milk to pour on it. The 1.3 litre Sunny D bottle would be good for breakfast but would not last me longer than three or four meals. A breakfast staple for me would be a cup of coffee, something that is frequently requested but that we rarely have to give out. I like scrambled eggs so the 500 grams of Egg Creation, which is a carton of egg whites, along with the onion and mushrooms I received, would last me about two breakfasts. I would also consume one of the two yogurt cups.

Moving on to lunch I could try to eat my one box of Kraft Dinner or maybe warm up the can of soup. Hopefully, if I wasn’t very thirsty from the morning, some Sunny D will be left over. Seeing as I am not terribly handy in the kitchen, warming up soup or making Kraft Dinner is maxing out my current culinary skills. If I didn’t have an oven,these foods, along with the can of vegetables, would be almost pointless. Future lunches would probably involve having to eat a can of beans in sauce which is not a favourite of mine, along with a can of tuna. Good thing I have a reliable can opener!

Finally, supper time would involve my cooking the five or six chicken nuggets and maybe half of the sausages I received. The crusty stick bread would also be on my dinner menu since it’s already a little on the stale side, and I would round it out with steaming some of the five pounds of potatoes.

Examining what is left in my hamper what would I do if a friend dropped by for a unexpected visit?  I would offer him or her a pepperette or two and maybe some leftover sausage. Not exactly ideal stuff for entertaining casual visitors. Also, it wouldn’t last very long and I really need to save it for the next few days. How about putting out some uncooked potatoes, mushrooms, and sour cream dip? Again, not really ideal. In reality I would probably not offer them anything, as I would be too embarrassed to admit that I was having a food emergency. If my friend provided me with food the last time I visited them, it would be a very awkward time together.

So, I’ve made it a day.  Not many leftovers remain.  If I want to stretch it out for another 2 days I have to start making some big compromises. I would find it very challenging and stressful to limit myself to just three meals a day.  There is not a lot of room for snacks and I’ve polished off most of my hamper in just one day.  I would have to carefully portion out the leftovers for lunch and supper and likely have to scrape by on day three with some of the frozen vegetables, a sausage if I have one left and maybe some pepperettes.  Not really an inspiring menu and not great fuel for a full day of school or work.  And all of this is assuming that after a stressful day or two of trying to sort out what and how much I should eat, I wouldn’t snack on something one day and have little left for the following day or two.  It’s not something I really want to think about too much, yet it’s a daily struggle for more than a hundred families each day walking through our doors.