Posts Tagged ‘food distribution’

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.

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Expect the unexpected

March 30, 2012

photo via flickr

Each day, week, month and year we are here at the Emergency Food Hamper Program something new and different happens.  It could be an unexpected donation, a new and interesting volunteer, or a new story and difficult decision to make.

So far 2012 has proven to be a challenging year for us.  Our weekly plan for how we will distribute food have required more forethought, planning and second guessing than usual.  Why is that?  There are a few reasons. (more…)

One bowl at a time

December 8, 2011

Lately we’ve tried to share a basic ingredient for soups with all of our hampers: Campbell’s beef broth. It’s a perfect time of year to receive this type of donation because the days are getting colder and we’re all looking for inexpensive and satisfying meals to help keep us warm. Also having soup broth available allows people to make their own soup creation, instead of eating the various canned soups that we typically have on hand.

The soup broth was offered before people left with their hamper. but since many people are unfamiliar with how to use soup broth we included recipes tip sheets to help people learn ways to use this great ingredient. These tip sheets included anything from substituting soup broth for water when cooking vegetables or rice, freezing in ice-cube size portions to add moisture when re-heating leftovers, or recipes for homemade soup. But we’re not the only ones trying to share the warm feeling of soup with the community.

Janet Uffelman, Sandi McCrory, and Norma Weiner are the Soup Sisters. These women are working hard to bring more soup to Waterloo Region. After attending a social evening out in Toronto, for another branch of the Soup Sisters, these wonderful women decided to start a program branch of their own.

Their not-for-project project got off the ground near the end of September, after they were able to establish a partnership with The Culinary Studio. Now these girls are in full swing of producing many bowls of soup each month. Each bowl of soup is prepared in a state-of-the-art professional kitchen by people who are learning to develop their passion for cooking, and by those who are trying to pass on their acquired skills.

Their culinary efforts are going to support Reaching Our Outdoor Friends (ROOF) and Marillac Place. Both of these agencies are trying to provide shelter, supportive services and advocate for youth who are struggling with a variety of issues and seeking a better future for themselves and/or their children.

If you’d like to get involved in supporting of the work of the Soup Sisters, you can attend one of their evening events for a cost of 50 dollars. The evening runs in the style of a cooking class where participants will produce approximately 150 to 200 bowls of soup. But that’s not where the fun ends! After working hard to create all this soup, the evening will follow with the enjoyment of a light meal and a wine tasting. For information on booking an event, please click here.

However if you’re not able to attend one of their events, there are other ways to support the work that the Soup Sisters are doing. To find these, click here. And just remember: each donation, small or big, is one bowl closer to another satisfied belly in our community.

A new perspective on food waste

November 16, 2011

Have you ever come home with something from the grocery store full of good intentions and great ideas for how to use it?  Have you ever lost track of it and found a month and a half later behind a container of leftovers and been forced to throw it out?  I think everyone experiences this from time to time. For most of us this isn’t a big deal; but when you look at some of the impacts that food waste has, you begin to see that it’s a much bigger deal than you’d think once it’s all added up. (more…)

Can you ever have too much rice?

November 7, 2011

Feed a dream

Before we know it the sky will fill with lovely snow flakes and the days will become colder here in Ontario. While there are many opportunities to get outside in the winter and stay fit, many people tend to spend a little more time indoors.  So what can you do, while your inside, staying warm and counting the days until it’s spring time?

Well I’m here to tell you about a fun and educational way to spend some of your spare time – especially if your household includes some school age children who want to test and expand their knowledge. To see what I’m talking about, click here.  It’s an online game with a twist.  Instead of getting points and being able to boast about your high score, each correct answer makes a little difference to someone somewhere in the world, ten grains of rice at a time.

Isn’t this great? For each correct answer you make to questions in a wide variety of subjects a little bit of rice will be donated to the World Food Program. It may seem like such a small amount but it all adds up and it’s free!  This is all thanks to the group who created FreeRice, a non-profit website now run by the United Nations World Food Programme.

But how can a non-profit website buy enough rice to donate 10 grains for each question you answer right? All the rice that you win through the game is paid for by sponsors whose advertisement banners will appear at the bottom of the screen when you enter a question correctly. Each of these sponsors also supports the goals of promoting learning or free education for everyone, and reducing hunger throughout the world.

FreeRice tries to provide more rice to countries that typically include this as a staple item in their diet. On average these countries typically receive approximately 400 grams of rice person, per day (for families, including children and adults). Generally the goal of each donation is to provide people with two meals, with the assumption they’ll also include other local ingredients, in the aim to achieve 2100 kilocalories of daily nutrition. 

By answering 600 questions correctly you donate one serving (according to Canada’s Food Guide) of a ½ cup of rice to someone in need. Although it seems like a lot of questions, you’ll rack of the number of grains you donate quickly!

If you are a part of a service club, or church, or have a circle of friends who like to do things together, you can all register as a group and compete with other groups and track the total amount of donations you have generated.

“Making the world a better place starts with food. Food fuels education. Food fuels free choice. Food fuels economic independence. Food fuels peace.” (Source)

So by playing the game you are helping do something about hunger in the world, but what about hunger in our community?  Currently rice is the fourth most needed food donation at the Food Bank of Waterloo Region. So please consider spending a few minutes to answer a couple of questions and the next time you are at the grocery store think of your neighbours in need and make a donation to the bin by the check out. (Click here to read one of our previous blog posts on what our patrons think about rice).

And in the end think of all the people who will be able to enjoy a meal or rice because of your efforts to test your knowledge.

There’s something missing

October 4, 2011

Every time you go to the grocery store there is an abundance of possibilities that you can take home. But unfortunately for over 20 000 people throughout the year their grocery trips are limited, because they’re accessing a food bank.

Food banks generally operate almost exclusively on donations – donations of time, money and food. As a result, it’s not uncommon for programs such as ours to experience a few weeks or months without certain food items such as canned soup, cereal, rice, peanut butter, macaroni and cheese, canned meat, or canned beans. At the moment, three very significant products are on the top ten lists of most needed food donations. Any idea what they are? If not, click here to find the answer.

Unfortunately three of our four protein products are on the top of the list: canned meat and fish, peanut butter, and canned beans. This has dramatic implications on the overall nutrition of our hamper; and also how many meals patrons can make out of the food we have to offer. You may remember how important food items like canned meat are to our patrons; but if not click here.

Luckily the Food Bank of Waterloo Region has been getting in higher amounts of frozen meat products. This means that our program has been able to slightly increase our quotas since the beginning of August. Here’s an idea of how our quotas have changed:

Family Size

Previous Meat Quotas

Current Meat Quotas

One person

500 g

750 g

Two people

1 kg

1.5 kg

Three people

1.5 kg

2 kg

Four people

2 kg

2.5 kg

Though it’s a minimal amount, it has an impressive impact. For example single people generally got one choice of meat such as a bag of sausages or a few chicken breasts in the past. Now a single person meat pre-pack will include two choices of meat products or a larger chunk of meat. But let’s look at the nutritional implications of raising our meat quotas:

Family Size

Increases of servings

One person

2 servings (1 day)

Two people

4 servings (1 day)

Three people

4 servings (almost 1 day)

Four people

4 servings (half a day)

To read more about meat and alternative nutrition, please visit Canada’s Food Guide.

For many people more frozen meat in their food hamper is a welcome change! One of the things that we learned through the work of Jesse and Leah, our two summer students, is that many patrons would purchase more meat or seafood products if they had more money available. However, because of the increasing costs of fresh or frozen meat products, many individuals often use lentils or canned meat as the best alternative to still get protein in their diet.

But with our supplies running out and many people not having the flexibility in their budget to buy a can of beans, a jar of peanut butter, or a can of meat, what do they do? Sadly it often means that many people will be without that food group in their diet for a few days.

Going without canned beans or canned meat and fish has a smaller nutritional impact on our hampers, but it does interfere with meal planning. Now instead of many people being able to throw one of these choices into a casserole, they’re left scrambling to find another alternative to get meat in their diet and complete their meal. Both a can of beans and a can of meat or fish contain approximately a full days worth of meat nutrition for a single person. It’s easy to see how quickly the nutrition of a hamper can diminish without these necessary staples.

Not having peanut butter available also decreases a hampers ability to provide a good level of nutrition for meat and alternatives. It takes two tablespoons of peanut butter to provide one serving of meat and alternatives. For a single person who likely needs approximately two servings of meat for the entire day, a 500 gram jar provides about seven days worth of protein. Larger families typically receive a one kilogram jar of peanut butter. To break this down it means that two person hampers lose approximately seven days of protein; three person hampers lose approximately four and a half days of protein, and four person hampers miss out on approximately three days of protein. Without this staple food, many people are left without anything to eat on a sandwich for lunch or to spread on some celery for an afternoon snack. Click here to read about the significance of peanut butter to our patrons.

What do you eat for lunch each day?  Imagine opening your bag lunch and only having two slices of bread with some mustard and lettuce between them.

You can change this though! Please keep these food items, and any other that you typically enjoy in mind during the fall food drive. Each donation makes a meal and brightens someone’s day – sometimes more than you can imagine. Whether it’s a box of cereal or crackers, a can of pasta sauce, or a drinking box it’ll make someone’s life one measure easier. Each food item they receive is  one step closer to a healthier diet, or one less explanation to a child for why it’s not on their dinner plate. And as our recent blogs show, not having food is only one of the many situations that our patrons are encountering throughout their day.

How?

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.

Waste challenge

May 20, 2011

With increased media attention on the issues of food waste and increasing food prices I’ve become more interested and concerned with my own food habits. Like everyone else, I’m trying to find ways to cut down my grocery bill and be a more effective shopper – without missing out on eating a (somewhat) healthy diet…and the occasional treats!

After reading an article in The Record back in January about food Waste, which you may remember from the posts that Matt and I wrote (if not, click our names to read the articles), I started following the online blog of Jonathan Bloom. His blog features links to many different articles that highlight issues around food waste; and lately he’s made a few mentions around the idea of “best-before” and “expiration” dates. (more…)

The side of potatoes you haven’t seen… and the rising cost of food

May 20, 2011

Annually House of Friendship utilizes well over 220 000 pounds of potatoes within all of our programs. Therefore a successful Potato Blitz campaign is important for many different programs, patrons and services. You may remember some of the stories Allison shared from various events of the Potato Blitz back in February, but don’t worry – I’m not here to repeat those. Instead I’m going to shine a new light on potatoes. We’ve talked about the nutrition of potatoes and how valuable potatoes are to the diets of our patrons, but we haven’t talked about the cost of potatoes. The cost of potatoes has a significant impact on the fundraising efforts of our Potato Blitz drive each February – and thus provides a glimpse at the side of potatoes we haven’t shown you yet! (more…)

Volunteer Spotlight: Alexandra

May 12, 2011

Alexandra has traveled quite a distance before settling down in Kitchener. Originally she is from Colombia; but many years ago she moved to Chicago, Illinois. For over ten years she lived in a Spanish community in Chicago. Although when she was looking for a change of pace one of her friends mentioned that Kitchener was a beautiful city to live in. And now she’s here!

Alexandra has been living in this area for about a year and a half now. For about the same amount of time she’s been volunteering with our program. WOW! She comes in a few times a week to help us out with various tasks in the warehouse. Overall she’s volunteered for about 215 hours! But let’s hear more about what she has to say about herself:

How did you hear about House of Friendship?

“The outreach worker at my local community center directed me to this program. I am a mom with two kids who was starting my life all over again so I needed a hamper. Then when I was here I asked if this place needed volunteers.”

Why is volunteering important to you?

“I enjoy coming here because it helps me learn English. While I lived in Chicago I was always speaking Spanish, but then I came here and everyone speaks English so I’ve started to learn. Also this experience helps me build relationships to use for job references in the future.”

How has volunteering made an impact in your life?

“Coming here has built my confidence in speaking English. But I’m excited for the people here because everyone is so nice and works well together. It’s so impressive to see the service that people get here. This program always gives out such fresh and healthy food. It’s amazing because my country never had any help like this.”

What’s your favourite job at our program?

“I don’t mind bagging any food – except potatoes. They’re really dirty!”

Note: Alexandra probably has no idea how important her work is bagging things like fruit when she’s in to volunteer. Let’s do the math! Each bag contains about 5 pieces of fruit. One tote can hold about 20 bags of fruit – or 100 pieces of fruit. Looking at our average family size, which is 2.2 people, this means that each tote of fruit that she bags allows us to provide fruit to about 45 hampers (depending on the quotas for the day).

What kind of activities or hobbies do you enjoy when you’re not working or volunteering?

“I like swimming and reading religious books. My kids keep me very busy though. I have a 17-year old son and a 9-year-old girl. Being a single mom isn’t easy because my kids need me to be so many things for them throughout the day. But as a single mom I feel like I can do anything! Every day gets easier.”

Alexandra you’re a remarkably strong woman with very interesting stories to share. I’m sure you’re future will only continue to bring good things for you. We’re glad that you’ve been able to settle in to the area and help us each week. Thank you!