Posts Tagged ‘social determinants of health’

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.”

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The best way to deal with homelessness? How about giving people homes.

May 30, 2013

Here in KW, there is a man who everyone involved in the service sector seems to know. He used to tend to gravitate toward the downtown area, and was often the target of verbal and physical violence. People would call the ambulance or police for him regularly, sometimes several times a day for mental health or other reasons. Over a long period of time, people began to realize that contacting emergency services on such a regular basis was not helpful to this individual, and was also enormously expensive for being so ineffective.

hand and key

In the dominant model of dealing with homelessness, the person described above would be expected to get cleaned up and healthy before accessing housing and other supports. This model is often called the ‘treatment first’ model, under which people who are homeless spend time in emergency services accessing treatment before they are deemed suitable for their own independent housing. There is an alternative model though, which even exists here in KW, called the housing first model. It’s exactly what it sounds like—first get people dealing with homelessness a home of their own, and then support them in accessing support for issues such as mental health, addictions, employment (whether paid or volunteer), or social engagement.

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Good things growing at Eby Village

April 19, 2013

House of Friendship is very enthusiastic about community gardens—we’ve got a big one at each community centre, a small garden here at the Emergency Food Hamper Program, and one is starting up this year at Eby Village!

Eby Village is a supportive housing building run by the House of Friendship. There are 64 tenants and the staff really try to foster a good sense of community. When I visit Eby Village I can tell everyone knows each other and they all get along really well.

To continue fostering a tight knit environment and friendly atmosphere, Eby Village is taking on an urban greening project this spring and summer. They have hired a part time staff person to coordinate, and there are already fifteen tenants who are meeting weekly to plan the garden. The plan is to make raised beds at the front of Eby for vegetables, and these will be high enough to be accessible for people who have trouble bending over. In the shady back area, they are planning a woodland garden, with pathways and lots of native plants. While the front area will be fairly active as residents grow vegetable plants, the woodland garden is meant to be a calm getaway that can reduce stress for residents.

An example of an accessible garden--high enough so people in wheelchairs and with other mobility issues can easily plant and weed.

An example of an accessible garden–high enough so people in wheelchairs and with other mobility issues can easily plant and weed.

I had the opportunity to talk with Allison, the supervisor at Eby, about why they want to start the garden. She says, “the urban greening project will provide tenants with the tools and opportunity to grow their own nutritious food, rejuvenate the urban space surrounding their building and develop together as a community.”

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Why does Waterloo Region need a food charter?

February 8, 2013

Before I started working at the Emergency Food Hamper program, I was very passionate about and involved with local food initiatives. I love community gardening and urban agriculture, going to the farmer’s market, and supporting local farmers. I’m still passionate about all of these things, but more and more I’m noticing that people on low income often don’t have the luxury of supporting local or organic food initiatives. Local and/or organic food is often more expensive and less convenient to purchase and prepare than conventional or processed food from the grocery store. I started doing research on the price of nutritious food versus how much a family makes on Ontario Works or even working a minimum wage job. I started to doubt whether supporting affordable nutritious food for people on low income and supporting local farmers were even compatible goals.

Food_Charter_word_cloud_resized

Because of my change in perspective, I was very interested when the Waterloo Region Food Roundtable, a group of citizens and people in the food industry who talk about food issues in the region, drafted a food charter. Waterloo Region Public Health started the roundtable in 2005, and their mission is to champion a vibrant and healthy local food system. They do this through networking and policy-making. 18 people sit on the roundtable and are from a variety of sectors, from the local farming community, to advocates for those living on low income, to academics and public health professionals. The idea is that if you get many people who involved in the local food system together around a table, you can have better conversations about local food issues leading to more sustainable and comprehensive food policies.

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Day 5: The Gift of Health

December 14, 2012

12 Days

Today’s theme in our 12 Days series is ‘Health’. As we’ve talked about many times before (here, here, and here), we see the effects of poverty on people’s health every day here at food hampers. To give one example, a woman came in for a hamper a few weeks ago, and disclosed she had been diagnosed with cancer. She explained that her doctor recommended she stay away from canned items, as some contain chemicals in the lining of the container, and had also recommended she increase her intake of fruit, vegetables, and whole grain products. This was difficult for her to take in; since she relies on food hamper programs like ours, she often has to subsist on non-perishable items and less produce. Like many people we interact with here, she is caught between wanting to follow her doctor’s orders to get healthy again, and needing to accept what food assistance agencies offered her so she can eat at all. Luckily, we were able to give her some extra produce, but she should not have to take a gamble every time she needs food.

needed_items

Many of our program participants have diabetes or other chronic diseases, which are far more common among people living on low income than people in other income brackets, yet it is difficult to afford the foods that may help them deal with their disease.

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Include, organize, celebrate, and take action: The United Nations International Day for Persons with Disabilities

December 3, 2012

Sometimes at the food hamper program people trust us enough to tell us the story about why they need a food hamper. The other day, a woman called in needing a hamper delivered because of a disability. She experiences light sensitive epilepsy, meaning when she is outdoors too long she could have a seizure. This makes things very difficult for her; what are simple tasks for some people, like running errands or bringing her kids to school, are always potentially dangerous. It also makes it nearly impossible for her to hold a job. Since her disability is invisible–meaning that just by looking at her one would not know she has a disability–she must deal with people who may not believe she actually has a disability at all. Many people experience different kinds of disabilities which may or may not be evident, and living in a society which tends to be structured for people without disabilities means they face many barriers to living a healthy and fulfilling life.

Today is the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and this year’s theme is “Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all.” While the provincial government has made some headway by passing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), which is working towards eliminating physical and social barriers for people with disabilities, there’s still a long way to go.

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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.

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Upcoming workshops at the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre

October 4, 2012

For people living on low income, being able to cook nutritious meals can be a challenge. Healthy food is often more expensive per calorie than less healthy processed food, and it can be hard to find the time and money to cook healthy meals from scratch. Like Melissa blogged about here, it can be hard to afford a nutritious diet after other monthly necessities have been paid for. People on low-income are also disproportionately affected by chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, which are hard to manage on a limited income due to the price of nutritious food.

To help people manage the barriers they face to eating nutritiously on low income, the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre is hosting a monthly workshop called Eat Well Spend Less. This workshop is on once per month at the centre, and participants actually get to cook a meal with the workshop leader while learning more about eating healthy on a budget. To give you a sneak peek, October’s workshop is Thanksgiving themed. At the workshop you can expect to learn basic food skills, like food safety, and to talk about the nutritional content and cost of the meal. Workshop leaders will also offer tips for saving on ingredients. After cooking, everyone gets to enjoy the meal together.

Another workshop going on at the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre is the Take Charge series, a workshop series meant for anyone experiencing a chronic health condition. A chronic health condition is simply a health condition which persists for a long time, whether it is mental or physical. This can include diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, chronic pain, depression and anxiety among others. The topics covered in the six-week workshops range from goal setting and stress management, to healthy eating and exercising.

Take Charge is a peer-led workshop, meaning it is co-led between someone who has experienced a chronic health condition as well as a Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre staff person. It is meant to be a supportive group setting, where people experiencing chronic health conditions can learn from and support one another.

The ability to eat nutritiously and manage chronic conditions are interrelated, and we see the effects of them every day. Like we have discussed in previous posts (such as this one), if someone cannot afford nutritious food it exacerbates the effects of diseases such as diabetes.

Both workshops require registration. The Eat Well Spend Less workshop happens the second Monday of each month from 1:00-4:00 pm at the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre. Contact Charla to register at 519-745-4404 extension 242.

The Take Charge workshop series is every Monday from October 15th to November 19th, 1:30-4:00 pm and is also at the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre. To register, call 866-337-3318.

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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