Posts Tagged ‘food banks’


September 20, 2011

One of the big questions we get is “how do I get a hamper?”

It’s a good question.  If you go to a hundred food programs across the country, you will likely have a hundred different experiences.  Each  place is different; there is no standard, but there are similarities.

A while ago, we managed to get our hands on a nice camera, and the staff here were kind enough to take on starring roles in our own re-enactment of getting up the courage to walk through our door, talk to a staff person and get a hamper.  Thanks to Nadir for the camera work, Melissa and Michelle for their acting skills and our volunteers for providing some background.

Take the example of Andrew, who Melissa blogged about last week.  This is likely pretty close to what he would have experienced when visiting our program.  On average we serve about 140 families and individuals each day we are open. Without the hard work of our volunteers and donors we couldn’t do it.

So, we’re obviously not going to win any Oscars, but we hope this video answers some of your questions.

Here are a few things to consider:

The lobby can often be very busy.  How would you feel having this conversation in front of a room of strangers?

Our hampers vary, sometimes a lot.  Is that box of food something you would want to share with your family? What foods do you wish we had that aren’t there?

In the video it’s winter.  How would you get to us if you didn’t have a car or bus fare?  We are here.  What if you lived here?  Kind of a long walk isn’t it?  I hope you have warm boots. Even in summer it’s not a treat.  When it’s really hot out, sometimes it’s worse.  Sunstroke, frostbite or hunger. It’s not an easy choice.

Stay tuned for some more stories from people who have used our program. As you read them, keep this video in the back of your mind.  Each one of them will have gone through this process, sometimes many times, over many years.

Where it all begins

September 13, 2011

Take a second to imagine this situation:

You walk up to your car to find everything is thrown around. Sadly your car has been broken into. Even more distressing is that you left your wallet, which contains all your identification and a few hundred dollars that you just took out of the bank to pay some bills and buy some groceries. You only left for a brief minute to drop something off to a friend; but it was long enough to throw your life for a loop. Though you wish you could start putting this behind you and go to the bank to pull out more money, there isn’t any left. That money was all you had left between now and your next paycheck that’s over a week away.

Unfortunately this “imaginary” situation actually happened to Andrew.

Andrew in the middle of a streak of bad luck. He’s already borrowed money from his family to cover his bills a few months ago. His family didn’t want to give him the money; but also didn’t want to see him on the streets. They agreed to help him just that once. He’s asked for money since and been turned away each time with the advice to work harder or manage his money better.

Because money has been tight for Andrew he’s drifted away from some of his friends. They always want to go out for dinner, a movie, or golfing – nothing that Andrew can afford after paying his bills. He still knows that he’s got debts to repay to his family, and also some of his friends. However of the one or two friends he does still manage to stay in touch with, they often ask him to loan them cash from time-to-time, which he knows they’ll never be able to pay back.

So now what does he do when there’s no one to fall back on? His current job isn’t giving over-time so there’s no way for him to get ahead. He’s put out resumes to take on a part-time job but no one is willing to hire him. And switching jobs isn’t much of an option because he can’t wait a few weeks for another paycheck starts, let alone, take the time off work to go to an interview. Thus coming here for food assistance is Andrew’s last resort.

When your expenses don’t go as planned, or you encounter a situation you didn’t expect, food budgets suffer first. Food is the one expense that doesn’t have a fixed value. Though you know how much money it takes to feed yourself or your family for a week, it doesn’t mean that the amount of money is always available. Therefore it’s not surprising that a significant number of people accessing our program carefully plan out their six visits a year in their food budget.

Stories like Andrews are in abundance at our program. Though the beginning of the story is different for everyone, where it all ends is the same: here, or a similar program.

This post is the beginning to a series. Each story and person is connected to the same basic problem: no money, no food, and no other option. Next in the series Matt will talk about our intake process and what it actually looks like to get a hamper. Following that we’ll provide you with a few more glimpses of the many beginnings that bring people into a situation of needing food assistance. By the end you’ll probably be surprised at how many similarities you have with Andrew, or any of the other stories that we’ll highlight.

Snapshot of Hunger

September 8, 2011

Statistics are one way that food banks try to communicate the demand for food assistance to the public. To calculate statistics food banks pull information from some of the questions that are typically asked when people come in to access our services. (To read about the questions we ask in our intake process, click here).

Calculating statistics is a complicated process that takes a bit of time and a lot of formulas. But it’s all worthwhile when you can share the results because many people have no idea how high our numbers go each day or the similarities that more than 130 families can have in a single day when you break down the small facts. For example one of the statistics that really impacts me to think about is that throughout 2010 approximately 37 percent, or 25 492 people who were assisted with food were under the age of 18.

That’s a significant number of people, which is why it’s important for us to share these numbers so that the community is aware of who needs help. Aside from sharing these numbers on our blog, many of the staff and volunteers will share any number of our statistics with a variety of people who we talk to about our program. These are the two ways we generally share our statistics, because we don’t have a formal report or document that we publish anywhere. However some programs do take the time to create a report, such as the Snapshot of Hunger report done by the Daily Bread Food Bank.

While looking through the report they compiled I found it interesting to see the similarities between the statistics we’re both calculating for the patrons accessing our programs. Many of our patrons would also fit the demographics that the Daily Bread Food Bank is encountering in the GTA region.

However it’s hard to know for sure how similar our patrons are because the Daily Bread Food Bank asks some more in-depth questions than we do here. Although by doing this they get a better picture of some of the barriers and challenges that people are facing in low-income households, which can leave you with a lot to think about.

Personally I spent a lot of time reflecting on the Hunger portion of the report because I was saddened to read a lot of those statistics, such as “forty percent of adults go hungry at least once per week” when we live in such a wealthy country. Even though I interact with people here every day that are in this same situation, it still doesn’t get any easier to hear that so many people cannot afford to have a nutritiously balanced diet. Also it’s not easy to face the facts that approximately half of the people accessing food assistance are single people.

Another statistic that their report shared is about income. Income can be an important piece for food assistance because some food hamper programs operate on a means test that calculates how many hampers a household is eligible for based on their income. Though neither of our programs request to know a dollar amount for those who are accessing food assistance, we do ask to know what type of income the household is receiving.

The two most common income responses are Ontario works (OW) or Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). The Daily Bread Food Bank reports that approximately 67 percent of their patrons are receiving social assistance, while our program states that approximately 37% are on Ontario Works. And approximately 45 percent of food bank patrons are receiving ODSP. One of the main reasons this is so significant is because the demand for our services by people receiving these types of income assistant programs will only continue to grow as commodity prices continue to rise faster than the payment increases for people receiving financial assistance does. This is a startling statistic that the report publishes to keep people aware of the challenges that people receiving food assistance are facing.

One of the final statistics in the report focuses on housing, which is a big challenge for people living in lower incomes for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest challenges is affordability. Many individuals accessing food banks are living on fixed incomes and with rising prices of rent and other utilities it can be increasingly challenging to find something adequate in size and affordable. Some of the patrons to the Daily Bread Food Bank spend approximately 72 percent of their income on rent and utilities – with a median monthly income of $925. If you want to show your support to make a change in this area, please click here to add your name to the call for an Ontario Housing Benefit.

Showing your support to increase the availability of affordable housing is one way to promote a better future for people in low-income households. But if adding your name to the call for a housing benefit isn’t your thing, there are still a number of things you can do. You can stay educated; you can share the stories you hear about the people in need; and you can talk to your local government to make changes. Then perhaps one day many of these statistical reports can be put to the history books instead of the newspapers.

Global conversation about food

September 1, 2011

“Food is one of life’s greatest pleasures and one of our most basic human rights. It’s important we all get involved in the debate about how to change the global food system so everyone has enough to eat today and in the future.” – Raymond Offenheiser, President of Oxfam. (Source)

This quote comes from an article posted on Oxfam that looks at an independent study done by GlobeScan that was collected from 17 countries around the world and a total of over 16 000 people. Each person was asked about their dietary habits and if anything has changed over the years because of the rising food prices, health changes, or any other influential factors.

Oxfam released this study on their website as part of their GROW campaign. This campaign is dedicated to promoting a better future for everyone, which starts by supporting solutions to solving hunger issues, and encouraging government to get involved in preserving resources or creating better policies. Basically the campaign is looking for people to get motivated NOW; instead of when the next disaster occurs. Their goal is to change things for the better, before food insecure situations get any worse. (Click here if you’re interested in joining their campaign.)

One of the results discussed in the survey looks at the fact that many people, in both rich and poor countries, are already reducing the quality and quantities of food they consume. As food prices continue to rise many people can no longer afford some of the foods they previously enjoyed in the past. Instead people in poorer countries are often accommodating to food prices by eating less food overall, eating cheaper food items, or eating a less varied diet. The study noted that women, specifically mothers, tend to change their eating habits more than other family members. You can read about this in more detail by clicking here.

There are a variety of reasons why many people are beginning to change the types and quantities of the foods that they typically consume. All of these are outlined in more detail in the article. However there are a few statistics that I want to share with you because I find them very interesting:

  • Percentage of people who have changed their diet because of rising food prices: 39% globally and 31% in the US.
  • Percentage of people who have altered their diet for health reasons: 33% globally and 49% in the US.
  • Percentage of people who are worried about the rising costs of food: 66% globally and 73% of those in the US.
  • Percentage of people who said that they sometimes, rarely or never had enough to eat on a regular basis: 20% of people globally and 8% of Americans.

Overall our statistics aren’t far off from many of the other countries in the world. Food prices and food security are an increasingly troublesome problem for a wider variety of people. You may remember some of the previous posts that we did on rising food prices back in May and June – but click here if you missed them.

Well to no ones surprise this is still a current issue in the news and something that I’m sure we’ll continue to experience as uncertainty about the global economy continues. Though food is necessary for human survival, we still have a long way to go to ensure equal access for everyone. Until we can find a solution to this long-term issue, food banks will continue to work diligently to provide all these individuals with a few days of food to help them temporarily overcome one of their many challenges.

Right to Food

August 26, 2011

Most people will have heard of the United Nations.  Especially if you watch the news.  I’m not sure if as many people will have heard of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.   Even fewer have probably heard of the Rome Declaration on Food Security and the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.

What are these documents and what do they mean?  In a perfect world they commit the countries that have signed them (which Canada has) to address the needs of their residents and ensure that their human rights are protected and promoted.

What are human rights?  That’s a big question.  I encourage you to read through the links above and try and get a handle on how important they are.  Ones that you may be familiar with are freedom of expression, freedom of thought and freedom of opinion.  These are the rights that we all enjoy in Canada every day. You enjoy them every day you open a newspaper, talk to your neighbours about politics and make choices on who to vote for and how you live your life.

Is food a human right?  It’s pretty hard to live your life without food.  Of all the human rights, food is one of biggest and most important.  It is difficult to enjoy your other rights if you’re starving.

If you read this blog, a newspaper or watch the news, you will probably realize that these documents are all great on paper, but in practice we’ve still got a long haul ahead of us as a Country and a global community. We say we’re committed to overcoming hunger, but yet there are still many people who go to bed hungry everyday: in this country and across the world.

The above picture is taken from one of the nineteen artists that contributed to the “Just Food” exhibit that is being displayed through the support and faith inspired efforts of the Mennonite Central Committee Ontario (MCCO). Some of you may be aware of this exhibit, since it’s been open since early July. But if you have yet to go, it’s not too late! The exhibit will be available until September 27 at Conrad Grebel University College anytime Monday to Friday between 9am to 7pm, or through alternative arrangements. (Click here for a map to the college.)

The inspiration for this event is to encourage people to remember that though we’ve stated hunger is not acceptable in many formal documents, we’ve still got a long way to go to make this a reality.

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food.” – Article 25 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Food is a central part of our lives: it’s part of survival and it’s also something that is often prepared to bring people together in celebration. Though as human beings we need to eat to survive, in today’s society we’re not always guaranteed access to affordable and nutritious food for various reasons.

Food banks are living proof of this: once a temporary solution to overcome (what was thought to be) a short-term problem, many of these programs need to expand their warehouses to keep up with the demands of service that they face each week, day and year. Things have yet to get better as many Canadians continue to struggle to meet their daily needs, or encounter unexpected circumstances that throw their life and finances for a loop.

To give you a better idea as to how high our numbers have been, and show some of the factors that may be contributing to high demands for food assistance, lets look at some of the statistics about food banks.

  • In the last twenty years our program hasn’t served under 20 000 hampers each year.
  • Each year our program assists approximately 9 500 households with food. (And we only cover Kitchener-Waterloo. To see a list with some of the Cambridge food assistance programs, click here.)
  • We are one of over 70 member agencies of the Food Bank of Waterloo Region, which means that there are a lot of agencies responding to the communities need for food assistance.
  • Approximately half the households who we provided food to last year relied on Ontario works (OW) or Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) as a source of income. People working full-time, part-time, or odd jobs followed as the next highest group at approximately 16 percent.

So hopefully you can take a break to visit the hunger exhibit. Because as it’s recently been said, and will be said again, hunger and food banks are something that need to come to an end. (To read an article about closing food banks, click here.) Your effort to become more educated is one of the first steps to making this happen; and this event is a fun way to take that first step.

In the coming weeks we will share a few more of the stories of the people who have turned to us for a helping hand. In the meantime, enjoy the food for thought at Conrad Grebel.

Feeding the stars

July 8, 2011

Summer is full of such great weather that it’s hard not to be outside to enjoy it; but at the same time it’s also nice to relax and watch a movie. Well mark your calendar because there’s an event coming up that will allow you the best of both of these worlds. Thanks to the hard work and planning of The Beat Goes On, Princess Twin Cinemas, the city of Waterloo, 105.3 KOOL FM, KFUN 99.5FM, and the Food Bank of Waterloo Region you’ll be able to enjoy both the nice weather and a great movie!

Some of you may already be familiar with the 5th Annual “Music and Movie in the park” event; but for others, here is a little bit more information. This event is free with the donation of a non-perishable food item.  There are three different Thursdays throughout the summer at Waterloo Park when the event will be held. (Click here for directions or suggestions on parking.) So mark your calendars to attend one or all three movies!

Thursday July 21: Rango

Thursday August 4: Gnomeo and Juliet

Thursday August 18: Rio

Movies will begin at dusk, following a musical performance from a local artist. So don’t forget to show up around 7:30 pm to lay down a blanket or set up some chairs in the grass to listen to one of the featured musicians before the movie. For more information, please click here.

It’s a perfect night out, a much better experience than a drive in movie theatre, and a great way to support a family in need. While you make memories with your own family under the star filled summer skies, you can also pass on a helping hand by donating a few canned food items that someone will rely on to make a meal with later on.

Each canned item that is passed on to the Food Bank of Waterloo Region from this event will go towards supporting one of the 25 500 people who receive food assistance throughout the year. To see what’s in high demand right now, please click here. Although keep in mind any food donation is always appreciated. Each item goes a long way to help someone who is struggling to meet one of their basic needs: food.

Sharing the rewards

June 30, 2011

Many grocery stores are trying to find ways to reward their shoppers by purchasing food from their stores. For some this means offering incredible sales on essential or staple food items in their weekly flyer; and for others it means offering a points reward system.

Some of you may be familiar with the Sobey’s reward card, but for others here’s a little introduction. The “Club Sobey’s” card offers customers an opportunity to collect points for every whole dollar spent in a Sobey’s grocery store when they swipe their card at the check out. Extra points are awarded to specific items, which are often promoted in their flyer. The card has no initial sign up cost or annual fees. The points collected can be converted into Aeroplan miles; food related rewards on the online catalogue; or saved up to redeem free grocery items. If you’re interested in collecting these rewards, click here to apply online, sign up in stores, or call 1-877-7SOBEYS (1-877-776-2397).

But why is this important? How is this related to the work that we do?

Club Sobeys members have the opportunity to donate the points they earn on their Club Sobey’s card to a charitable organization or food bank program. People have the options to choose between the following agencies:

–         Boys and Girls Club

–         Daily Bread Food Bank

–         Second Harvest

–         Toonies for Tummies c/o The Grocery Foundation

–         Ontario Association of Food Banks

–         The Food Bank of Waterloo Region.

Many of these agencies deal with providing food to low-income households or programs that will provide assistance to those in need. The other piece to these programs is that they aim to provide services that will assist in providing a healthy lifestyle development. Please click on the above names to learn more about the organization, if you’re interested. If you’re interested in donating your points, please click here. Your points will make a significant difference in your community and to a family in need.

Being here is…

June 9, 2011

Being here is trying to divide 350 1L cartons of milk between 700 families.

Being here is seeing someone excited to get a tooth-brush but not being able to give them toothpaste.

Being here is seeing someone get excited about getting last years Ferrero Rocher chocolates.

Being here is watching someone leave food behind because they can’t carry it.

Being here is seeing someone get excited because you have a backpack you can give them so they can carry all of their food home.

Being here is celebrating a volunteers birthday.

Being here is seeing the disappointment in someone’s face when you tell them we have no stale bread to give them for the second day in a row.

Being here is having a 5 year old ask you if they can give you a hug after delivering a box of food to her family.

Being here is seeing people excited about free used clothing.

Being here is meeting someone one week who’s excited they found the a nice shirt and then meeting them again the following week and seeing how much more excited they are to have found the matching pants and completing the outfit.

Being here is deciding which day of the week we will give out peanut butter, and if we will have enough to share with everyone who comes in that day.

Being here is wondering if the food delivery truck will be full or empty before the driver opens the door.

Being here is sometimes the ability to choose how many bins of fresh corn you can receive from a donor a week.  (Thanks Trevor!)

Being here is having to negotiate with people, who don’t want to be “too greedy”, to take more food before it goes bad and we have to compost/throw it out.

Being here is having to throw out rotten food because not enough people came in that week, and because it only had a day or two of life left in it when we received it, in the first place.

Being here is having the ability to hand out fresh fruits and vegetables most days.

Being here is giving out oversized cauliflower heads just because they’re seconds.

Being here is not having enough food to give to everyone who is coming in.

Being here is being busier than expected, giving more food in the morning, and less in the middle of the day, so you don’t run out of food for the last few families that will come to us for help just before we close.


(Thanks to John Scalzi for the inspiration and all the staff at the food Hamper Program for sharing their insights.)

Farming and volunteering – the rising cost of food from a farming volunteer

June 8, 2011

To date we’ve shared some of the thoughts from House of Friendship, the Food Bank of Waterloo Region, and Herrle’s Country Market around effects of rising food prices. But as we promised in our introductory post, we’ll share some of the thoughts from Dennis: a farmer, and a current volunteer with our program and the House of Friendship Board of Directors. Originally I was going to introduce Dennis in a volunteer spotlight; however after talking with him and reading newspaper articles about rising food prices, Matt and I agreed it would be better to shine attention on him by letting him weigh in our discussion about rising food prices. So let’s get started:  (more…)

Family sticks together – the rising cost of food and the family farm

June 3, 2011

As Melissa blogged about earlier, the rising cost of food is getting a lot of play in the media and is weekly on the minds of everyone who does any grocery shopping – especially if you’re on a limited or fixed income.

Higher or lower, the cost of food is a struggle for many on both sides of the producer/consumer coin.  The people who grow it, ship it, store it, sell it and buy it all have an interest in how much food costs and what is good for one, may not be good for all.

We have shared our perspective already, with some words from John our executive director, as well as Tony, our Community Services Director.  Today we are going to share a few words from Trevor Herrle, a local farmer and businessman, who’s family has helped our organization tremendously.

You can learn more about the Herrle’s and their country farm market here, as well as read some blog posts by Trevor on the excellent Food Link blog here.  He is also an active tweeter (follow @HerrlesMarket) and provides some really interesting views into what it’s like to be a farmer. (more…)