Posts Tagged ‘food insecurity’

Our volunteers go the distance

October 15, 2012

One of the single most rewarding parts of being at the House of Friendship is working beside the hundreds of amazing volunteers who come to help us and others each and every day of the year.  At the beginning of September we took a moment to relax and celebrate their achievements in style thanks to Knox Presbyterian Church who opened their space to us and let us set up some BBQ’s to grill some tasty food.

We couldn’t have done it without Boston Pizza, Canadian Tire, The Cake Box, Future Shop, Galaxy Cinemas, Max’s Golf, the Perimeter Institute, Princess Cafe, Starbucks, The Museum, Walmart, Waterloo Region Museum, Whole-lota Gelata, and CIBC who all generously gave their own thanks for the work our volunteers do by donating raffle prizes. (more…)

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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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Living on low income with diabetes

June 28, 2012

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

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

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Closer to Home

June 14, 2012

As myself and a few others have written about in the past, the experience of providing food to patrons becomes much more personal the moment you are able to make a connection, perhaps recognizing yourself or people you know in patrons and their stories. This has been something that I have been continuing to learn and experience through my time working here at the Emergency Food Hamper Program (EFHP). However, earlier this week I experienced something that took this to a new level.

I received a message from two good friends of mine (let’s call them Mike and Jessica for the sake of this post), asking where someone could go to access emergency food. Upon talking with them more, I came to learn that a mutual friend of ours needs food assistance. Mike and Jessica were hoping to get some more information about the process of obtaining an emergency food hamper, in hopes that they could relay the information to our friend.

I can only imagine how anxiety-provoking it is for individuals who have never walked through our doors before to come for the first time; there are so many unknowns. Where do I go when I walk in the door? Will people judge me? Who will I talk to? Will they be friendly? Can I trust them? Will they ask me how much money I make? What if I’m not eligible? How will they know what I need? What if I need too much? Keeping in mind that it may be stressful for this friend of ours, I explained in detail the program and how it worked to Mike and Jessica, including details about what we’ll ask, where to wait, how the program works, and how to get here by car/bus. I knew that Mike and Jessica were going to relay the information to our friend, and then also accompany them to our warehouse to pick up a hamper for the first time. I figured it was the least I could do to try to make their experience in asking for help a bit less stressful.

After explaining all of this, the reality hit me that there is someone that I know who requires emergency food assistance. It made me sad to realize that, but also grateful that there are programs such as this, and friends like Jessica and Mike to walk alongside our friend as vulnerability is acknowledged. It opened my eyes to how unpredictable life’s measures of security (namely finances) are. In the blink of an eye, something could happen (as Melissa illustrated in this post) and the tables could easily be turned, so that it’s me on the other side of the counter. I have had glimpses of this reality before, but through this most recent experience it has become that much closer to home.

I am learning more than ever through my internship here at House of Friendship’s programs that life and its provisions are not to be taken for granted. I am grateful for what I have been blessed with and the situation that I am in, which is so different from many of the people with whom I interact. And I’m grateful, too, for this enlightening experience through which I realized more of how food insecurity and similar issues can literally affect anyone. I’m especially grateful for and find it an honour to extend the hand of friendship whenever and however I can.

You too, can retire by age 90!

June 7, 2012

Forget retiring by age 55, some people are looking to retire (in some cases for a second time) from their current line of work by age 90.  Can they do it?

I hope so!

How are they going to do it?  By adopting a time honoured way of working together and organizing: they’re going to form a union!  A union of food bank volunteers in fact.  Calling themselves the Freedom 90 Union (check them out by clicking here) they have a few simple demands.

First off, they want to be laid off!  They want the government to take urgent action to address income support programs like Ontario Works, and measures like the minimum wage, so that people can buy their food instead of having it given to them at an emergency food program. Second, they want to see the end before they reach age 90.  Action should be sooner rather than later.  Third, they joke, freeze or double our wages!  Since they are all volunteers, to them, it doesn’t matter.  They only want to see food banks close their doors, and the need for them to disappear into thin air.

Are they going to picket? Will they strike if their demands are not being met? (more…)

One wrong turn

May 31, 2012

image via Flickr

It’s amazing how quickly your life can turn from good to bad. One second you have it all together; and the next you’re scrambling to make ends meet. Life is full of tricky twists and turns, and sometimes there’s not much keeping you away from needing a program like ours.

Take Randy for example. Randy often made that extra step at the grocery store and each week dropped off a few extra items into the food bank donation bin. Today, he needs to go to one for the first time.

This summer started off like a dream. I had great friends, a house, and got a great job. I’ve been working construction, when there’s enough work to do. Since I just started I’m the first one to get a day off when a job is held up or there’s not enough work to pass along. But it’s been okay because the long hours on some of the other days have helped me make enough to cover all my bills. I wasn’t a millionaire but things were comfortable….Boy I miss those days! Now I’m constantly on the phone with car repair facilities, my insurance company, doctors and physiotherapists. This is all because of a car accident that happened one day after work. I don’t remember everything because it all happened so fast. And I couldn’t believe how quickly I ran through the little savings I had… it didn’t take long before I needed a food bank.

It may sound like a cliché, but you never know how many bad turns, days or weeks you are away from having to come to a food bank. If you suddenly lost your job, how long would your savings last? What could you sell or quickly pawn to cover your bills? How long could you keep on doing that?

With limited insurance coverage your monthly bills already exceeding your savings – what do you do? Where do you turn? Who would you rely on to get you through this difficult time? How quickly would you be able to do something like sell your house? And then what? How do you start over again?  What happens to your retirement plans?

For Randy all of this uncertainty is because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s hopeful but he can only hold onto hope for so long. What would keep you strong enough to make it through this uncertain time?

Many people like Randy never realize how many missed pay cheques away they are from needing to swallow their pride and turn to our volunteers for help. When you’re working and things are going well you rarely imagine what it would take to put you too far back. Often all it takes is one unexpected turn of event to set people back on the bills for a few weeks, months, or sometimes years. When you’re ahead it’s easy to keep going, but when you fall behind it’s a hard climb back up to regain that feeling that you are in control of your life again.

Wishing it was just a dream

May 10, 2012

From time-to-time my coworkers and I become a listening ear for someone in a crisis. Sometimes we can direct people to other resources for help; but sometimes people just need someone to vent to. This is exactly the case for Jessica. Jessica is coming for a food hamper after experiencing a situation that she never imagined being faced with.

When I woke up today and looked around my house I pinched myself. This had to be a bad dream that I’d wake up from. I even tried going back to bed to convince myself that this couldn’t be real. My partner left a note saying it was over. And then I noticed that all the food in our fridge and cupboards, and a few other things were gone. How could he just leave me like this? And why did he take everything? We can’t live without food. Sometime in the middle of the night he left and took everything with him. Sure I have a full-time job but we live pay cheque to pay cheque – where am I going to get the money to buy everything back that he’s taken? He didn’t have a steady job but he kicked in money towards the bills here and there, which was always enough to get us by. Now I’ll probably have to cancel my internet and home phone because I doubt I’ll be able to afford them anymore. And I’m already thinking about the possibility of moving to something cheaper. I’ve got a million thoughts going through my mind that I’m not even sure where to start!

Coming here was a step in the right direction. Though it definitely wasn’t an easy choice, we can give her some options. Wait – let me rephrase that: give you more options, because you’re not dreaming either – this is your story.

The first thing you check is your bank account. You remember giving him your debit card to get groceries a few days ago when you were too tired to go after work. Did he give you the card back? Did he take out any money on top of the cost of all the groceries? You never thought to worry about anything like that because you felt like the relationship was going well. Unfortunately you were in for a surprise.

You waited so long to move in together because you wanted to know that you could both afford an apartment together and that he was a good fit for your kids. For a few months it was a great decision but now you’re kids are wondering where all the stuff went and when they’ll see him again.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Like Jessica, I’m sure your mind would be racing a mile a minute through all these thoughts. You can start by referrals through friends and families to get connected to immediate supports such as food banks. Then from there you’ll hope they can refer you to social service agencies or thrift stores that can help you obtain all the items that your ex took from you. And each day you go through this difficult transition I’m sure you’d continue hoping that this is still a bad dream that you’ll eventually wake up from. Luckily for you, this situation will end when you close this blog, but Jessica continues to stay awake through these struggles.

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…)

Home Economics 101: Waterloo Edition – What does a healthy diet cost?

February 3, 2012

It’s no surprise how quickly a grocery bill can add up throughout the month after you buy fresh produce, school snacks, meat, milk, and all the other foods you need. But do you have any idea how much money someone typically spends to feed the average family in Waterloo Region a healthy diet? … Give up? Well keep reading and you’ll find out!

Back in September The Region of Waterloo released their annual “Cost of the Nutritious Food Basket” report, which provides an estimate on the overall cost for a household to eat a healthy diet. The estimates of this report are based on average food prices from various grocery stores throughout the community, based on the dietary recommendations from Canada’s Food Guide for specific ages and genders, the number of people in the household and reflective on eating patterns of the community. (more…)