Posts Tagged ‘food insecurity’

Putting Hunger on The Map For The 2015 Federal Election

October 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

Who Needs A Food Bank?  Your Neighbour Does

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

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

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

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

The PROOF is in The 1.6 Million

November 20, 2014

Last year, the research group PROOF published a national study of food insecurity in Canada. They concluded that

[h]ousehold food insecurity, inadequate or insecure access to food because of financial constraints, is a significant social and public health problem in Canada. In 2011, 1.6 million Canadian households, or slightly more than 12%, experienced some level of food insecurity. This amounts to nearly one in eight households, and 3.9 million individuals in Canada, including 1.1 million children. There were 450,000 more Canadians living in households affected by food insecurity in 2011 than in 2008.

And fortunately (for you, kind reader) the PROOF researchers also put together a slick info-graphic. (more…)

Five days on a Hamper Diet: surviving, or thriving?

August 27, 2014

In two other posts, our intrepid summer students discussed “living inside the box,” including planning meals and dealing with the unexpected when your only groceries are from the Emergency Food Program. In this piece, Jessica shifts the discussion out of the abstract, describing her experience living on the actual contents of a food hamper, for five days. (She bought the items, don’t worry!) As her story unfolds, compare it with other more theoretical entries on this blog. Now, here’s Jessica!

My thoughts going into the assignment

In my last blog post I questioned the sustainability of our five day meal plans. In short, was it really enough food to eat well for five days? So, for this assignment I wanted to actually prepare and eat a single person family hamper. This Friday I am going to record what items would be in a one person hamper and purchase them at my local grocery store. I am only going to use the items that would be provided in the hamper with the exception of salt and pepper.

Going into this activity of actually executing a designed meal plan I was quite nervous. I was unsure of what to expect and what I would receive in my hamper that day.

Would I like the food options?

Would there be enough food to last the designated period of time?

I believe these feelings might be similar to customers who use our program, especially for the first time. This is why it seems so important to help program patrons feel comfortable and answer any questions they might have.

Now, I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a picky eater but there are some items that I would prefer not to eat. This makes me think of all the children that only want to eat certain food items like chicken nuggets and french fries. How do their parents or guardians handle that situation when all they have available is the food we provide them?

Although extremely healthy for you I’m a lot like most children and do not enjoy eating vegetables, maybe with dip but that’s about it. So designing a personalized meal plan for myself may be trickier than just a general meal plan Sarah and I created earlier where I didn’t incorporate my personal food preferences.

This assignment should be very interesting and a great learning experience for myself to gain a larger understanding of what some of our single person family customers may be going through when designing and preparing meals for themselves. (more…)

Northern Reflections on Food (in)Security

August 14, 2014

What would you do with $908? Take a cruise to Alaska? Buy a nice new bicycle? A TV? 900 boxes of Kraft Dinner? Bury it under a large rock?

Maybe you’d go grocery shopping?

There is no real grocery store in Gull Bay First Nation, an Anishinaabe community about 200 kms north of Thunder Bay. There is no good public transit connection between Gull Bay and Thunder Bay, meaning you drive. If you can’t afford a car or gas, you have to take a taxi. And you had better fill that cab to the gills, because it’s $908 round trip.

That’s $908 plus the cost of groceries.

A resident of Gull Bay shared this anecdote with Mike Balkwill, provincial organizer for the Put Food in the Budget campaign, on his recent tour of communities in northwestern Ontario. Mike has spent most of his life working with people living on a low-income in southern Ontario (specifically the GTA), and was invited to travel north this summer by Kathy Campbell, Executive Director of an emergency women’s shelter in Red Lake.

Kathy suggested a learning tour, of sorts, because poverty in the north is not like poverty in southern Ontario.

(more…)

Mo’ KD, Mo’ Problems

August 7, 2014

Our senses have a wonderful and wicked ability to take us different places. I can’t smell a certain kind of sugary black tea without remembering the years my family lived in Labrador. Certain bands remind me of an ex-girlfriend. For each of us these associations are different.

Food creates associations in powerful and sometimes surprising ways. I think that most privileged people like myself can classify their food associations as either positive or historical: special meals, backpacking abroad, or maybe a particularly unsatisfying meal from our past. For example: “shipwreck,” the leftovers-on-leftovers stew my dad used to make, which I haven’t been subjected to in probably close to twenty years. And this is an important point: privilege means choice; and it means that a lack of choice is self-imposed or in our rear-view mirror.

I spent a couple weeks canoeing last summer, some of it in Temagami, just before I started working at the Emergency Food Hamper Program. At the time I was unemployed. In other words, going on an extended canoe trip was not the smartest idea, finance-wise, but my friend and I committed to doing the trip as cheap as possible, right down to the food we packed into our waterproof barrels.

And so, because we could get the ingredients basically for free, we spent the week eating a strange mix of quinoa, lentils, sesame oil and soy sauce–except for a couple of cans of herring, which I recall thinking at the time was the most delicious food in the all time history of food.

Fortunately, I think, I don’t often eat that peculiar mix of sesame and soy sauce. On the one hand, it reminds me of a beautiful trip in Northern Ontario. But on the other hand, I am taken back to what it felt like to have no choice–by choice, mind you–and my stomach turns and constricts at the thought of eating more of it. You have to eat on a canoe trip if you want to keep canoeing, even if it’s what you ate for lunch, and for breakfast, and for supper, and for lunch, and for breakfast. It’s sesame and soy sauce all the way down! (more…)

The changing face of food aid

June 3, 2013

Change is not an easy thing to face.

Sometimes changes are imposed from the outside, other times, you may feel that you are running in circles, achieving nothing and want to get out of the rut.  Maybe it’s time to go back to school, change your job, or just put a new coat of paint on things to brighten up your living room.  There are big changes, and not so big ones – but big or small, change is often hard for people and recognizing the need is rarely a straightforward job.

How do you know it’s time?

At our staff meetings at the Emergency Food Hamper Program, we sometimes find ourselves looking to the future of how we operate. We think about our impact as a program, and how our numbers have increased steadily since we first started giving out hampers. We think about the kind of community we’d like to be a part of. We talk about whether it would be better to have more warehouse space to give out more hampers, or more offices and a nice kitchen to help teach people food skills and increase the amount of anti-poverty advocacy we do.

At the House of Friendship, working with other organizations and people is a major part of our day.   We are always looking to volunteers, staff and community partners to help uncover a better community for all of us a little bit at a time. This is why places like the Stop, and its sister project, Community Food Centres Canada caught our eye—they offer a new way of seeing food aid, as more than simply emergency hampers. All across the province (and now the entire country) there are some fresh ideas developing and being nurtured by Community Food Centre’s Canada. They are trying to grow some change and set an example for how people can help communities build a better relationship to healthy food and advocate for a more just world.

What is a Community Food Centre? According to their website, it is:

“… a welcoming space where people come together to grow, cook, share and advocate for good food. CFCs provide people with emergency access to high-quality food in a dignified setting that doesn’t compromise their self-worth. People learn cooking and gardening skills there, and kids get their hands dirty in the garden and kitchen in ways that expand their tastebuds and help them make healthier food choices. Community members find their voices on the issues that matter to them, and people find friends and support. CFCs offer multifaceted, integrated and responsive programming in a shared space where food builds health, hope, skills and community.”

(more…)

Getting out of the business of food banks

May 21, 2013

Though sometimes when I’m working at the front desk it feels like a customer service job, we often remind ourselves here that we are not a business. When our numbers go up, it is not cause for celebration, but a time to reflect on the root causes of poverty in our community and why the amount of people who need food assistance increases every year. We are constantly looking at new ideas that could eliminate poverty, and one of those is to simply give people the money they need to live a healthy and fulfilling life. As a solution it might seem overly simple, but it really could work. As we’ve discussed here many times, when people have an adequate income money is saved elsewhere in social systems.

Today’s post is a guest blog, written by Sean Geobey, on the topic of eliminating poverty—and eliminating food banks–by giving people adequate income. Sean is a PhD Candidate in Environment and Resource Studies at the University of Waterloo and a graduate fellow with the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience. His research focuses on social finance and its role in creating social innovation.

A food hamper from a few years ago for a family of three.

A food hamper from a few years ago for a family of three.

I am fortunate enough that I don’t rely on a food bank for my meals. I go to a grocery store near my home to pick up a few bags of fresh veggies, milk and meat when I’m running low. The hours are always convenient, and I can choose the right mix of food for my needs over the next few days.

Although I rarely think about it, having this freedom means a lot to me. It means that I can schedule my food around my work, social and family life. It means that I’m entrusted with the choice of setting my own priorities about what I put in my body. It means dignity.

Having a basic income that provides everyone in our community with enough money to meet their basic needs would extend this dignity to everyone. A basic income is a guaranteed minimum level of income support that everyone would receive. It would not be means-tested, eliminating the need for intrusive, demeaning and punitive interventions by social workers. The idea of a basic income has historically received support from across the political spectrum, including those on the right like Milton Friedman, Robert Stanfield and Hugh Segal to those on the political left like Martin Luther King Jr. and Ed Broadbent.

(more…)

What I’ve learned in a year at the Food Hamper Program

May 10, 2013

After almost exactly a year of working here, today is my last day at the Food Hamper Program. I am sad to leave the staff and volunteers here as I’ve formed some great friendships and learned a lot about the KW community, but I’m looking forward to new adventures, including travelling this summer and going back to school in September.

building_outside

I’ve learned a lot in the year that I’ve been here. Here are some things I’ll take away from my time.

There is no one kind of person who needs food assistance

I’ve learned that there is no one kind of person that comes to a food bank—there is a huge diversity of people who need food assistance, and they have taken many paths to get here. Many people face barriers to finding work and thus having an adequate income due to discrimination. Perhaps they identify as transgender, are a recent immigrant or refugee, or have a disability. I’ve learned that no one is on social assistance because they’re simply ‘lazy,’ but that there are a multitude of reasons people live in poverty, ranging from the kinds of jobs available to a lack of affordable childcare to health problems. Each person has their own story of why they are at the food hamper program.

The way we treat people living on low income needs to change…now.

I’ve learned that the way social assistance is set up helps no one, and a dollar added to social assistance is more than a dollar saved in other areas. I’ve learned that poverty and health are so closely intertwined that I’m not sure you can talk about one without talking about the other.  Most importantly to me, I’ve learned that eliminating poverty is the logical thing to do, not only from an ethical but from an economic standpoint. It makes far more sense to give people an adequate income and save money elsewhere in the system, especially in the health care and justice sectors. I have hope that others think this way. Though there is a long road ahead when it comes to poverty elimination, there are a lot of dedicated people making very good cases as to why poverty should be a priority for all levels of government moving forward.

I’ve learned all about foods I never knew existed

We receive all kinds of food donations. Before working here I had never seen chayote squash, bitter melon, chinese long beans, or lychee fruit. Now I could tell you what their main nutritional qualities are and how to cook them!

I am disappointed to leave the House of Friendship because it’s an organization I believe in. I’m proud of that the organization has decided to speak up on important issues, and advocate for a more just society. I decided to work here in the first place because, though I don’t believe food aid should have to exist, the program’s philosophy was in line with my own. I believe people coming in for food aid should not be policed, or asked invasive questions about their household finances. I’ve been lucky to be able to visit other House of Friendship programs and learn about the community building and advocacy that goes on at our community centres and residential programs as well.

I’ve been so privileged in the past year to work with dedicated staff and volunteers who believe in the program like I do, and who are working every day to create the kind of community they want to be a part of. I’ll miss it here.

Feeding our furry (or feathered!) friends

April 15, 2013

The other day I was browsing the ALIV(e) (Awareness of Low Income Voices) blog, and came across this post, where Teri-Lee talks about how much her cats mean to her. In her words, “my cats give me a reason to get up in the morning and a feeling of being needed and loved. They give me a reason to laugh. When I feel down and alone, my cats make me feel secure and worth the effort of being.” Her post made me think of my own pets and how important they are to me, and of all the people who come in for hampers and ask for cat food, dog food, or even bird food for their animal friends.

Georgie is a dog without a home. Adopt him from the Humane Society!

Georgie is a dog without a home. Adopt him from the Humane Society!

A few years ago Matt wrote this post about giving out pet food. Many people who come in for food for themselves also come for food for their pet, usually a cat or dog. In fact, in a typical month about 17% of people we serve ask for pet food, which is over 400 hampers. We give out pet food whenever we have it, and many people are thrilled to get some food to get their furry friend through the week. This is a great service, but sometimes I am asked questions like “why do people coming in for food have a pet when they can’t even feed themselves?”

This is an important question and one I’d like to answer in this blog post. Being able to care for a pet is more complicated than simply having money, and everyone deserves to have the companionship and health benefits that come with having a pet.

(more…)

Advocacy organizations respond to report on social assistance

November 7, 2012

In a recent editorial printed in the Record, physician Gary Bloch talks about a patient of his who lost his job as a carpenter after being in a car accident, and like many, had to go onto Ontario Works to survive. The patient suffered from depression and with only $600 per month to pay for rent, food and everything else you may need to live a normal life, had difficulty affording basic necessities. In other words, as Bloch writes, he had trouble ‘presenting himself with dignity’ in order to be employable. Instead of helping him get back on his feet after an accident, OW trapped him in poverty, exacerbating his physical and mental illness. As this individual’s doctor, Bloch could only prescribe physiotherapy and counseling, knowing that these were only treating his patients symptoms rather than the underlying problem: living in poverty.

Stories like this one are exactly why the provincial government created a commission to research social assistance and look at ways to reform the system. Last week, after consulting stakeholders across the country, the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario released its final report called Brighter Prospects: Transforming Social Assistance in Ontario (read the report here). Many are saying that the report is the most in-depth review of social assistance—which includes Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program—since the 1980s.

As you know if you’ve read our blog before, many people who regularly come for food hampers are recipients of OW and ODSP. In fact, in 2011, 36% of hampers we gave out were to OW recipients, and about 20% were to ODSP recipients. Together, this means that over half of the food hampers we give are to people on social assistance. Needless to say, we are very interested in social assistance reform going forward, like many poverty advocacy groups in Ontario.

(more…)