Posts Tagged ‘Introduction’

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…)

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Volunteer Spotlight: Marge

June 2, 2011

Today we have another wonderful volunteer to share: Marge! Marge is a dedicated volunteer who has helped out for over 700 hours – 115 of those coming in last year. Marge has been volunteering since December of 2005. In this time Marge she has shared a lot about herself, and taken a great interest in getting to know some of the patrons, staff and volunteers. Before the interview I knew a little bit about Marge but this experience definitely helped me learn a lot more.  I’m very excited to be able to showcase her!

How did you hear about House of Friendship?

“I’ve always been aware of House of Friendship since I moved to Cambridge about 35 years ago. My church has tried to help out in various ways throughout the years. But a couple of years ago my husband was the one who brought up volunteering here. Though he’s moved on to other volunteering activities I hope to be around for a while.”

Why is volunteering important to you?

“Volunteering is a part of who I am. I value the idea of helping others so I’ve built it into my lifestyle. I used to be a social worker, so I like to still be involved. It keeps me up-to-date on who needs to be supported or what I need to advocate for.”

Are there any other programs that you volunteer or have volunteered with?

“I help out with different activities in my church throughout the year. Since last spring I have been involved with an English as a Second Language (ESL) program. And I’ve also been involved with various support groups in a cancer-care support facility (Hope Spring) and for individuals who struggle with being abused as children.”

How has volunteering made an impact in your life?

“Again I’d probably say that volunteering here keeps me aware of what the needs are in the community. But getting to know the staff and other volunteers is a big perk. Everyone is so fun to be around so it’s hard not to enjoy helping out here.”

What’s your favourite job at our program?

“Really I don’t mind doing any job while I’m here. I started mostly bagging food or diapers in the beginning; but now I’m here more to pack hampers. I’d probably say that I enjoy packing hampers more though because it’s very interesting for me to meet and talk with all the different types of people and families that use this service. I know it’s only a brief conversation but I feel like its important because I can take the chance to share some cooking tips, they’ll tell me about how their kids love or hate the foods we have to offer, and other things like that.”

To read more about the significance of us distributing baby items, click here.

What kind of activities or hobbies do you enjoy when you’re volunteering?

“I love reading and spending time with my grandchildren. And I love cooking. I’m always looking to try new recipes and find creative ways to get my family to eat more vegetables and other healthy foods.”

Marge I think it’s phenomenal that your interest in helping people remains so strong after many years. You come in week after week to lend a hand with whatever task we need and always seem to do it with a smile. I especially love your cooking advice, since I live with a picky eater. Thanks for all your hard work and dedication to helping our program and the people we serve each day.

Volunteer Spotlight: Stephanie

May 30, 2011


Stephanie has been volunteering with us once a week since the end of March. She is currently in her third year of Medieval Studies at the University of Waterloo. I had never heard of this program before talking to Stephanie, which makes sense since she told me that there are only three universities that offer it in Ontario. After graduating she’s hoping to use this degree in a career as a teacher or writer. (more…)

Looking for a cure

May 26, 2011

Dealing with cancer is a devastating situation all on its own. After being diagnosed you’re given a sudden shock that will change your life in a dramatic and serious way. Many people are pushing you to maintain a healthy and balanced diet, while keeping a low-level of stress in between numerous appointments with doctors and other health specialists or chemotherapy treatments. But on top of this you’re also expected to remain on top of your daily obligations such as paying bills and cleaning your house. However dealing with cancer, while living in a low-income, brings a whole new set of challenges to an already difficult situation.

Anna (whose name has been changed for confidentiality) recently told me about the struggles she’s been facing since she was diagnosed with cancer. She’s here today for a food hamper to help address one of the many struggles she’s facing as a single mother of two teenaged children: food. Though her children are able to help out with various tasks around the house, she doesn’t want to burden them or depend on them too much as she’s scared that this may hinder them from following their own personal dreams. Therefore she’s doing her best to stay strong and be a positive role model for her children.

While life continues to throw curve balls at her, she continues working hard to find a way to overcome her many challenges. For example: after learning she had breast cancer last year and undergoing various treatments, she soon realized that it would not be possible to continue working based on her current health and energy levels. Because of this new change in her life, she was directed to apply for social assistance (also known as Ontario Works).

Unfortunately Anna was declined social assistance. But there is a reason why. After the caseworkers at the Region of Waterloo began processing her application they discovered that she had a small amount of money in a savings account from a settlement from a few years back. Therefore Anna’s application was declined because, in their opinion, she was not in an immediate need of money to pay for basics such as food and shelter.

In the mean time Anna has been working to live off her savings. However various social workers and other professionals that she’s been working with over the last few months suggested that Anna submit an application for a disability pension (CCP-D).

On that advice she submitted an application in November. About a month ago she learned that they rejected her application. (To read about some of the reasons people are rejected, click here.) Therefore now in between all her many medical appointments and raising her children, she’s going to work with her oncologist, professionals with the Hospice of Waterloo Region and legal aid counselors to file an appeal. But until then she’ll continue to live on $600 a month from the child support of her ex-husband.

Living in such a modest income, food assistance makes a big difference to her family. However it’s challenging for her to try to carry all this food, with her struggling health concerns. Also bus drivers typically discourage people from bringing on carts, wagons or strollers on the route near her house because she’s on a school bus route, so the bus is easily and quickly filled with passengers alone.

An example hamper for a family of three people.

Thankfully someone was able to provide her with a ride today. Though it involved her planning ahead a few days in advance, it’ll make a world of difference to her – especially since our hampers tend to have more fruits and vegetables than other food assistance programs. We’re also aware of some other alterations we can make, based on her special diet needs, to improve the assistance that this hamper can provide to her overall diet and health. (To read about an example of one of the special diets we accommodate, click here.)

Overall she’s doing her best to find any other alternative to avoid coming to our program, because she doesn’t want us to feel like she’s over-using or abusing our service. But today with some convincing I tried to explain that this is the reason food banks still exist today. Because sometimes beyond your best control and best efforts, people will face an unexpected or difficult life situation and as a society we’ve agreed to stand behind them to make sure they didn’t get left behind. Everyone deserves to access to food, and when you can’t buy it yourself, we’ll try to make ourselves as accessible as possible. Anna is no exception, and hopefully soon her situation will soon improve.

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!

A step away from the unexpected

May 4, 2011

Taking the first step into our building can be a challenging one. Even if you’ve accessed our program before, it never gets easier to accept that despite all your hard-work and many of your best efforts, you are still struggling to meet your basic needs, such as having enough food for a meal.

Unfortunately this is the reality for John (this is not his real name), a single male who was in for a hamper. Despite the fact that he’s been in a few times over the last few months, it’s not getting easier to accept that the original situation that brought him to our program about four years ago is yet to be resolved.

Before needing to access food assistance programs John was employed in a steady and high-paying endeavor. He was in a service position that showed no sign of slowing down, as it was service that many people rely on. For the most part he had a perfect situation going…until he experienced a bad day at work.

While completing a job at the side of the road, John was hit by a drunk driver. He sustained numerous injuries, which have taken him many years to overcome.

But thankfully now he’s doing well, when you consider where he’s come from. Most of what’s left is a permanent injury in his elbow, from some lingering bone fragments that will require surgery to potentially improve. However should he chose to forego the surgery and the complications that may follow, he’s left with a life of being careful not to bump his elbow – unless he wants to feel that sharp shooting pain for the next few weeks.

After the accident he had a brief waiting period before he was put on his company’s disability benefits. Between these benefits and his personal savings, he felt as if he’d be able to overcome this drastic life change. Well that was until he was informed that he would be transferred onto Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) benefits.

WSIB benefits came in a timely manner; so John was able to stay up-to-date on his bills for the most part. However this was until one of the caseworkers at WSIB noticed that some of the paperwork was missing to complete his claim.

Because his file was missing certain documents, he was suddenly cut off the WSIB benefits – and for almost no fault of his own. Somewhere in the line up, whether it was his employer, the hospital or another agency, someone forget to fax over the appropriate paperwork. This left John to start back at step one. He needed to gather everything again before they could re-process his claim.

John was facing a more difficult challenge than he would anticipate though. His previous employer seemed to neglect to return his phone calls or to make the arrangements to send off the paperwork. Also he was somewhat restricted from entering the building because of liability issues. Then on top of that it’s taken months to track down all the necessary accident reports and records from hospitals and other involved parties. But he’s still missing some of the documents, because he can’t gain access to them.

Without these documents his claim cannot go through. So it’s almost certain that John will need to rely on the support of our program, since he’s basically run through any and all personal savings.

But today while I listened to his story, I could tell he wasn’t upset about having to go through all the steps to make his claim. He simply felt hopeless to find an end to his problem. He doesn’t know where to turn or who can help him get those final documents from his previous employer, except a lawyer that he obviously cannot afford to hire. So today just before he received his food hamper, I offered him some resources from our pamphlet rack that may be able to help him – or at least should be able to point him in a better direction. (You can also read about other referrals our staffs make by clicking here.)

Getting this referral put a smile on his face, which he says hasn’t been there in a long time. It meant a lot to him that someone was able to listen to him vent about his problems and potentially offer the solution he’s been looking for.

Overall John’s doing his best to stay positive, but often finds it more and more difficult given all the twists and turns he’s facing through this life changing situation. He never once would have thought that he would ever be only one step away from needing help with food or to pay his rent, since he’s facing an upcoming eviction.

Instead John has a new appreciation for all the times he donated food; and all the people who continue to donate food to support people facing similar situations and tragedies such as this. Many of these people never expect to need to take the first step into our building; but often appreciate the listening ear or the referral to another agency that can help them overcome the reasons they’re struggling. It’s usually such a brief period where people need help, since on average we distribute approximately one to three hampers for every family we serve. But each time we offer them some food for the next couple of days, we know we’re making a world of difference to a household facing numerous and diverse challenges.

We’ll never stop people from needing food banks, because situations will always exist to create an emergency. But thankfully we’re here to make sure that people like John are still able to eat at least one meal before the end of their day.

Volunteer Spotlight: Jeff

April 28, 2011

Almost a year and a half ago today was when we saw Jeff for the first time to help out in our warehouse. He started doing various tasks in the warehouse like stocking shelves and re-packaging food items but we slowly started introducing him to packing hampers. He’s been a tremendous amount of help at the end of the day to help us clear through the last-minute hampers rushes before we close or to stock the hamper aisle shelves so we’re ready for the next morning. Jeff has a lot of experience with each of these tasks as he’s been helping us out for about 130 hours by coming in week after week. As a result of his continued dedication I took some time to ask him a few questions so we could all get to know more about this fantastic volunteer.

How did you hear about House of Friendship?

“I’ve always looked to do some volunteering here and there over the years; but a lot of places were full since high schools students have had to do mandatory volunteering hours. Then I needed to do some community service hours and got help finding a placement with the John Howard Society. After I finished my hours I requested to keep volunteering if they needed someone.

Why is volunteering important to you?

“With this program specifically I’d probably say that it’s important because people need food. And I know that you guys rely mostly on volunteers so I like being able to help them get it.”

Are there any other programs that you volunteer or have volunteered with?

“I’ve helped out at the St. Johns Soup Kitchen a few times since I know one of the staff people there. And I also do on call help at the Breithaupt Community Center for various events like their Book Fair in March.”

What’s your favourite job at our program?

“Stocking the shelves is something I like to do. It’s pretty straightforward stuff, and really helps out for all the people who are packing hampers. Checking the expiry dates on some of the products like canned soup can be a bit of a challenge but I still enjoy it.”

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

“I’m into music. I’ve taken some lessons and taught myself how to play guitar, bass guitar, and drums. Most of what I play would be categorized as rock music. I recently became a certified snowboard instructor. And I also keep myself busy with my kids. I like playing sports with them, and taking them out to the park, the library, the museum, and places like that.”

Well Jeff it was great to get to talk to you. You’re often so busy working in the warehouse that I don’t always get a chance to see you in the break room while you’re here. Thanks for all your hard work in all areas of the warehouse!

Volunteer Spotlight: Eric

April 10, 2011

Just as he finished packing one of many hampers from our initial rush when we open at eleven in the morning, I asked Eric if I could sit down with him in the break room to ask him a few questions. He’s been here since the beginning of November of last year to volunteer for about 35 hours but I’ve never really had a chance to have a conversation with him. So here are some of the many things I learned: (more…)

Volunteer Spotlight: Bill

April 9, 2011

There’s an interesting story to how this interview started. When I went to give Bill a food list to pack I told him that if he could guess the surprise I had for him, he’d win a prize. And this is it! His prize was to sit down with me for a few minutes with me in the break room so I could ask him a few questions to share on the blog. However I phrased it more that I was going to make him famous, so here’s my best attempt to give him his fifteen minutes of fame:

(more…)