Posts Tagged ‘patron voices’

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.

Give someone a boost

June 27, 2011

This week has been difficult one for the people who have walked through our doors.  They’ve been trying to get the money together to buy food, for starters, but with a little help from our volunteers and donors, most have been able to get by.  Some have not been as lucky.

Wendy came in this week, looking for food like everyone else, but not the kind that we were giving out.  We had a lot of strawberries, which was great.  We even had cheese, which was a real treat for everyone too.  What she really needed however, were meal replacement drinks, which we did not have.  (more…)

Another Perspective on ‘Being Here’

June 22, 2011

A few weeks after I started this job, I met Maria.  She was part of a Guatemalan family that I registered. It was their first time to our program and they were accompanied by a support worker who spoke Spanish.

The husband and wife stared at me as I leafed through their paperwork— government issued for landed refugee claimants—and began to set up their file. They didn’t speak any English and were obviously uncomfortable with the entire process.  For the relatively small number of newcomer families that I deal with, this isn’t totally uncommon.  Many of them are using services like ours for the first time.  Sometimes there are cultural differences that make the whole experience a little overwhelming or stressful. I just assumed it was a new experience for them and carried on with the intake process, using their support worker as an interpreter.

“Do they have any food allergies or special diets?” I asked.

I wished I could speak Spanish so that I could better ease their worry and assure them we could help and were happy to do so.

“She is pregnant” the caseworker said.  “In fact, she is due next month. Would that make a difference?”

“OK.” I replied, “We’ll make a note of it.  Let her know that when the baby is here, we can give her some baby items as well, once a month.  In the meantime, we can put some extra things in the hamper that are appropriate for her.  Also, could you tell me their address?”

“Actually,” the caseworker replied, “they just arrived into the country a few hours ago – currently they are staying at a refugee shelter.” (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.

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.

Story from a program patron

January 4, 2011

What I have to share today is based on a conversation that I had with a patron in need of specialized food assistance. When patrons are in need of specialized assistance intake staff try to collect specific details by reading through the food list with them to determine what type of accommodations we can make with the resources we have available.

She needs special items, like soft foods and meal replacements (ensure or boost) to help her maintain a reasonable level of nutrition following her upcoming surgery. This detail is just one of the many that she shared with me during our conversation; so with her permission, here are the some of the experiences she had to share: (more…)

Food Bank Users and “Abusers”: 2010 Summer Survey Challenges Patron Stereotypes

August 27, 2010

Photo courtesy of Richard Dingwall

Lucas and I have spent much of the past two months at EFHP sitting down with patrons to complete our annual summer survey. We were able to conduct 120 interviews – about 13 more than last year – which will be compiled into a report in the coming months. When first assigned this task, I was worried that weeks and weeks of asking questions such as “why do you not always have enough to eat”?, would begin to wear down on my optimism and faith in my community. Instead, I came out of this project enlightened about the many strong, proactive and hopeful spirits I connected with this summer.


Translating Deliveries

August 3, 2010

Today Mark, our volunteer driver, is delivering a box of food (shown above) to a single female who is 74 years old. There’s a good chance that Mark has probably done a delivery for this patron before, as he’s volunteered with our program for about seven of the eight years that she’s been supported by our delivery service. This senior began requesting hamper deliveries when her friends and neighbours were unable to continue supporting her with transportation to our program. In some cases this would force a patron to use public transportation, but in her elderly age she is barely able to carry a small bag of groceries home from the store, let alone the weight of a banana box-sized hamper. Therefore, this isolated senior depends on our programs resources because without us she would miss out on the food assistance she needs to supplement her limited resources. As a result every time she calls us, our staff and volunteers work to ensure there is a box of food packed and delivered to provide her with approximately one week’s worth of nutritious food per month, given that she is eligible for 12 hampers each year. (more…)

Profile on Mobility and Delivering Food Assistance

July 20, 2010

For about a year now this father has turned to our program for a little extra food assistance for himself and two teenage sons. Although one son has recently moved out, things aren’t getting any easier for his father. For a number of years he ran his own business,  but eventually maintaining his health began consuming all of his time. He’s had to let go of contracts and clients to find the time and energy for all his hospital visits and medical appointments, while his increasing weight loss leaves him reliant on a walker to help him travel almost any distance. The past few months he’s found himself unable to work at all, doing his best to manage his bills and expenses with his Ontario Works cheques. For the most part it’s been working out well; but as his prescription costs keep rising, money has been getting tight.  It’s a constant struggle to find extra money for transportation to his medical appointments and bus tickets for his sons to get to school. Considering all these factors,  it’s not hard to see why this father needs food assistance.


Challenges of Delivering Food Hampers

July 12, 2010

In 2009 our program distributed an average of 137 food hampers each day; well 137.3333333333 if you really want to get specific. That’s about 27 hampers for each hour that we’re open to the community. In an ideal world we’d be able to deliver each and every food hamper, regardless of if the patron could come down or not, to save each patron from worrying about transportation, but that’s not realistic given how many hampers we distribute. We’ve pulled off some incredible things here, like serving 278 hampers in a single day, but I don’t think we could find enough volunteers and vehicles to deliver all those hampers around KW. I also don’t think it would be possible to further stretch our drivers’ schedules of donation pick ups to help deliver any of those hampers. Luckily we just don’t have to worry about that, because it has worked for many years for a majority of our patrons to find transportation or arrange a pick up by a case worker, friend or family member. (Phew!)