Posts Tagged ‘statistics’

After 30 Years of Food Banking How Are We Doing?

February 5, 2016

We are rapidly closing in on the 1 year anniversary of adopting Link 2 Feed.  If you recall, we blogged about it last year and some of the implications of using it for the future.  Look forward to a bit of analysis next month as we consider a year worth of data and what insights we might gain from it about hunger in the region and how busy our program was.

Today I wanted to reflect on 2015 in general, which provides a nice opportunity to consider 30 years of food banks, basically, from their inception as a desperate measure to help out, to an established and complicated part of a very different society.

I want to narrow the focus down to the experience of the House of Friendship.  We have spoken in other posts about what food banks do, some alternatives and some implications of different ideas.  I want to sidestep that, and instead take a look at what emergency food assistance looks like for the us. (more…)

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How To Take Two Trips For The Price Of One

June 19, 2015

Museums like the ROM, different cities, camps and more are all great places to go on a school trip. Photo via Flickr user Grant MacDonald

One of the nice things about being a parent is the opportunity to accompany your child or children on a school trip: you get some insight into class room dynamics, spend some time with your child, and learn a bit about the environment in which they spend so much of their time.

At the end of the year, many classes organize school trips.  I remember these as great experiences to go outside of the community I grew up in, visit new places with my friends and have a lot of fun.

For the first part of this week, my co-worker at the Emergency Food Hamper Program, Raymond, was absent as he accompanied one of his children on an end of year trip.  As a result I stepped into his role a little more than I usually do, and coordinated the challenging and interesting job of receiving, organizing, inventorying and distributing the many food donations we receive.  This week was a little more challenging than others. (more…)

Hunger Count 2015: A Local Preview

April 14, 2015

There, but for the grace of God, go I

Much to my mother’s chagrin, I can never remember how to ‘properly’ set a table and where to place forks and knives and all the assorted meal consumption equipment.

from elegantwoman.org

This, from elegantwoman.org is still no help

Now that I am older, I have a number of toddling children to coordinate and shepherd to the table, and as a result everything gets placed on the table in a largely haphazard manner.  Being young children, much of everything on their plates, including the plates themselves, ends up on the floor. I clean up the mess while my partner gives them a bath and attempts to persuade them not to give a repeat performance with the bath water.

That’s one cheery picture of family meal time, but many different scenarios play out every day around tables in every community great and small in Canada.  Often, not so cheery.

How do you set a table for 5500?

For a long time now, March is the month when Food Banks carry out the Hunger Count and share their service numbers with their respective provincial bodies, who in turn share them with the national network, headed up by Food Banks Canada.  This March was no different, and later in the year, both bodies will publish a formal report highlighting the state of food insecurity in this country based on this reporting.

What does this have to do with table etiquette?

Well, this March we gave out 2561 food hampers to around 2294 households, or 5515 people, including 757 children five years or younger.

So while many of us were passing the butter or the milk or whatever else was needed at the other side of the dinner table, every day in our community about 250 people were fretting about how to split a box of free food.  Some did not have enough to go around and skipped meals, some restricted access to different foods or compromised with cheaper items, others limited portion sizes, or used a variety of other coping strategies.  (See the dietitians of Canada for a more comprehensive discussion on pages six and seven.)

Yes, we were able to share food with a lot of people, but March is a good example of the strengths and weaknesses of programs like ours.

Not enough free food, is still not enough food

So, take two people that we served last month, I’ll call them Raul and Cody for the simple reason that those are not their names and they want to remain anonymous.

Raul and his wife came in and filled out the food list we have. They also spent a couple minutes whispering between themselves, trying to figure out how to spell ‘thank you,’ in their second language, along with some of the other needs they had that day.

Next is Cody, who has some serious food restrictions because of medical conditions, which is another way of saying, because of how his body works.  Human biology is pretty complex, and while it usually gets along fine, lots of people get pretty uncomfortable when they eat the wrong things. Cody has a combination of food sensitivities and health issues.  His choices are therefore massively constrained.

So how well were we able to meet the needs of these two different families?

Our program allocates food that people require for their survival.  It would be nice if it was otherwise, but today it is not, and this introduces many difficult negotiations into our daily work.

Annotated food slips

Annotated food slips

To figure out who gets what, we use a quota system. This is our attempt at fairness, and it’s not perfect. Essentially, it helps us manage what we have so we don’t totally run out half way through a day, or week and shut our doors to the public.

We start each day with a more or less known quantity of food, but we do not know the number of people we will serve.  We have a rough idea, but cannot tailor our supply to everyone, or even those who need it the most because we don’t know they’re coming, or in what number.  We may run out of different things, we may need to restrict access based on family size, and we may not have the items you really need if you have a restrictive diet.

March was difficult because, while we did have some nice things (whole coconuts, plantains, pluots, apples, mangos and papaya) we didn’t have them the entire month. Some days we had no fresh vegetables and/or fruit and had to restrict quantities vigorously most of the time because demand outstripped supply.

Did I say something wrong?

So, you may have come in March and wondered if some sort of mistake happened once you got your box home and started trying to figure out what to do with the items.  Most of the weeks, we did not have a lot to fill the boxes.  Looking back on previous experiences here, you may have wondered why today you only received a quarter of what had been there in a previous visit.

So, we were able to share something with Cody and Raul, with help from volunteers, a generous community and a lot of planning and effort, but ultimately, they left our warehouse with many of their requests unmet, for the simple reason that we just didn’t have the items they were looking for.

Real solutions

There will be a good deal of virtual and real ink spilled once the final “Hunger Count Report” is issued later this year, but the solutions can be summarized simply in this way:

Make housing affordable for people on a fixed income, rebuild our social safety net so that no one must choose between staying warm and eating real food, support children and their families (because children aren’t poor, families are) and support job retraining and skills development for those who have the biggest barriers to entering the workforce.

The next time you set a place at your dinner table, consider this last March and families like Raul’s and Cody’s.  It’ll give you something to talk about while you pass the mashed potatoes.

Who Represents Hunger, Part 3

April 1, 2015
Who represents the most food insecure households in kitchener waterloo?

Which local politicians represent the most food insecure households?

If you have been elected to political office, you have a big job.  You have to listen to your constituents, provide leadership, help a lot of people and try and invest in the neighbourhoods and businesses that make up your district.  All the while, you are also working with your political neighbours, reacting to events both big and small and trying to do the “right thing” by different constituencies, some of which, have conflicting views of the world.

People who struggle with poverty and live on a low income are one of these interests, and traditionally, they do not have a respected place in public discussions.  There are groups that advocate for and with them, but in talking about the issues, there are not always good numbers to use to describe the scale or impact of certain social problems.

Take hunger or food insecurity for example.  As I discussed in my previous post in this series, the number of people using food banks is hard to pin down.  It may be getting a little easier in Ontario, as I discussed in a recent post about Link 2 Feed, but if we want to talk to elected representatives locally about the number of people they represent that currently struggle to get food on their tables, it has been difficult, because those numbers haven’t really existed.

(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…)

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…)

A new perspective on food waste

November 16, 2011

Have you ever come home with something from the grocery store full of good intentions and great ideas for how to use it?  Have you ever lost track of it and found a month and a half later behind a container of leftovers and been forced to throw it out?  I think everyone experiences this from time to time. For most of us this isn’t a big deal; but when you look at some of the impacts that food waste has, you begin to see that it’s a much bigger deal than you’d think once it’s all added up. (more…)

There’s something missing

October 4, 2011

Every time you go to the grocery store there is an abundance of possibilities that you can take home. But unfortunately for over 20 000 people throughout the year their grocery trips are limited, because they’re accessing a food bank.

Food banks generally operate almost exclusively on donations – donations of time, money and food. As a result, it’s not uncommon for programs such as ours to experience a few weeks or months without certain food items such as canned soup, cereal, rice, peanut butter, macaroni and cheese, canned meat, or canned beans. At the moment, three very significant products are on the top ten lists of most needed food donations. Any idea what they are? If not, click here to find the answer.

Unfortunately three of our four protein products are on the top of the list: canned meat and fish, peanut butter, and canned beans. This has dramatic implications on the overall nutrition of our hamper; and also how many meals patrons can make out of the food we have to offer. You may remember how important food items like canned meat are to our patrons; but if not click here.

Luckily the Food Bank of Waterloo Region has been getting in higher amounts of frozen meat products. This means that our program has been able to slightly increase our quotas since the beginning of August. Here’s an idea of how our quotas have changed:

Family Size

Previous Meat Quotas

Current Meat Quotas

One person

500 g

750 g

Two people

1 kg

1.5 kg

Three people

1.5 kg

2 kg

Four people

2 kg

2.5 kg

Though it’s a minimal amount, it has an impressive impact. For example single people generally got one choice of meat such as a bag of sausages or a few chicken breasts in the past. Now a single person meat pre-pack will include two choices of meat products or a larger chunk of meat. But let’s look at the nutritional implications of raising our meat quotas:

Family Size

Increases of servings

One person

2 servings (1 day)

Two people

4 servings (1 day)

Three people

4 servings (almost 1 day)

Four people

4 servings (half a day)

To read more about meat and alternative nutrition, please visit Canada’s Food Guide.

For many people more frozen meat in their food hamper is a welcome change! One of the things that we learned through the work of Jesse and Leah, our two summer students, is that many patrons would purchase more meat or seafood products if they had more money available. However, because of the increasing costs of fresh or frozen meat products, many individuals often use lentils or canned meat as the best alternative to still get protein in their diet.

But with our supplies running out and many people not having the flexibility in their budget to buy a can of beans, a jar of peanut butter, or a can of meat, what do they do? Sadly it often means that many people will be without that food group in their diet for a few days.

Going without canned beans or canned meat and fish has a smaller nutritional impact on our hampers, but it does interfere with meal planning. Now instead of many people being able to throw one of these choices into a casserole, they’re left scrambling to find another alternative to get meat in their diet and complete their meal. Both a can of beans and a can of meat or fish contain approximately a full days worth of meat nutrition for a single person. It’s easy to see how quickly the nutrition of a hamper can diminish without these necessary staples.

Not having peanut butter available also decreases a hampers ability to provide a good level of nutrition for meat and alternatives. It takes two tablespoons of peanut butter to provide one serving of meat and alternatives. For a single person who likely needs approximately two servings of meat for the entire day, a 500 gram jar provides about seven days worth of protein. Larger families typically receive a one kilogram jar of peanut butter. To break this down it means that two person hampers lose approximately seven days of protein; three person hampers lose approximately four and a half days of protein, and four person hampers miss out on approximately three days of protein. Without this staple food, many people are left without anything to eat on a sandwich for lunch or to spread on some celery for an afternoon snack. Click here to read about the significance of peanut butter to our patrons.

What do you eat for lunch each day?  Imagine opening your bag lunch and only having two slices of bread with some mustard and lettuce between them.

You can change this though! Please keep these food items, and any other that you typically enjoy in mind during the fall food drive. Each donation makes a meal and brightens someone’s day – sometimes more than you can imagine. Whether it’s a box of cereal or crackers, a can of pasta sauce, or a drinking box it’ll make someone’s life one measure easier. Each food item they receive is  one step closer to a healthier diet, or one less explanation to a child for why it’s not on their dinner plate. And as our recent blogs show, not having food is only one of the many situations that our patrons are encountering throughout their day.

Big numbers are a problem

September 28, 2011

It is hard to get a handle on big numbers.  What do 5,000 or more people look like gathered in one place?  What does it look like to serve food to the 2200+ households those 5000+ people live in? It is hard to imagine, and often, even harder to describe. But, on average each month this year we have served that many households and people.  Sometimes, we have served even more.

We can give you a lot of statistics to help you understand how our donors and volunteers make a difference to all the people we serve, but after a while, lots of big numbers lose their meaning – they go in one ear and out the other, and if I asked you later, you would be hard pressed to remember them. Why?  Well, we, as humans, have a hard time wrapping our heads around big numbers in meaningful ways. It helps to have a frame of reference to put numbers in context.  People like hearing and sharing stories, they don’t like memorizing tables of numbers.  We are social beings, not walking excel spreadsheets.

But, I have a dilemma! I have some numbers I want to share with you! To help you understand all the ways our volunteers help, I have broken some of the important stats from this year down a little into things that might mean something to the average person.

Lets start at the beginning…

source: MCC website

On average, each month our volunteers help over 500 infants and toddlers!  If approximately 20 infants and toddlers fit into a day care, that’s translated into about 25 day care centers a month!  This is something to think about the next time you drop your kids off with a caregiver on your way to work, or when you give one of your grandchildren a hug.

How many school age children do we serve?

source: Transport Canada

At one point in your life you have probably ridden in a school bus. Especially if you grew up in a rural community like I did. Assuming that 50 school age kids fit on a school bus, each month our volunteers send home food to feed 30 school buses full of kids! That’s about one and half buses full each day we are open.  Think about that next time you’re stuck in traffic behind a school bus full of kids making faces at you.

What can you fit over 3000 adults into?

source: de zeen magazine

If about 300 adults fit into an apartment building, then on average, each month our volunteers help get out enough food to feed 11 buildings full of people!  Think about that the next time you are  shopping downtown walking past the apartment blocks. If you live in an apartment building yourself, walk up five flights of stairs and, on average, all the people living on those floors would equal the number of people we serve each day we are open.

BINGO!

source: Alabama local news

And finally, if about 300 people fit into a bingo hall, every two months our volunteers help feed a bingo hall full of senior citizens!  I was a bit of a loss to come up with a good yardstick to measure our service to seniors.  But, nevertheless, we called up a local bingo hall and they said that the most they could fit in at one time was about 300 people.  So, every two months our volunteers will call out BINGO and reflect on the 300 seniors our food went to help.

Generally, many people who work with food banks estimate that there are many seniors in our community who need the help but don’t come to us.  Part of the problem is knowledge.  Many of them don’t know we’re here.  The other part of the problem is that it is difficult for them to admit they need the help.

Adding it all up

So, where do our food hampers go?  Each month on average, the food hampers go to 500 infants and toddlers, 1500 school age children, 3000 adults and about 150 senior citizens.   That’s more than one child care centre full of infants and toddlers, one and half school buses of school age kids, half an apartment building of adults and a few tables at a bingo hall of senior citizens every day we are open.

Which is easier to remember?  We would love to hear some feedback from you.  How do you remember important statistics? How can we better share the story of our volunteers and the mountains of food they move to help so many people?